Book Review

JAMIE QUARTERMAINE & ROGER H. LEECH. Cairns, fields, and cultivation: archaeological landscapes of the Lake District uplands. xix+396 pages, 362 b&w and colour illustrations, 4 tables, CD. 2012. Lancaster: Oxford Archaeology North; 978-1-907686-07-8 hardback £25.

Review by Paul Frodsham
North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Partnership, UK

Frodsham image

This well-written, copiously illustrated and splendidly produced volume presents the results of the Lake District National Park Survey (LDNPS), undertaken to record complex archaeological landscapes extending over large tracts of the Cumbrian uplands. Between 1982 and 1989, the LDNPS recorded 10?307 individual monuments within 18 survey areas covering a total of 78.4km².

An introductory chapter sets the scene with an outline of the geology of the Lake District, followed by a section entitled 'The vegetational and climatic history of the Lake District during the Holocene'; it also includes discussion of much archaeological material linked to the extensive palaeoenvironmental record. Of particular interest is the relationship between peat inception and the archaeological landscape. Further introductory sections cover the background to, and origins of, the LDNPS Programme, and unusually (and only possible here due to the timelag between the completion of LDNPS fieldwork in 1989 and eventual publication in 2013) a section on 'Subsequent archaeological work in the Lake District'. This latter section includes mention of no fewer than 26 further upland survey projects which have built on the success of the LDNPS, as well as important excavation projects, including those at the Langdale Neolithic axe production sites. It is important to stress that while many upland surveys are undertaken to clarify the extent of archaeological landscapes—primarily to inform landscape management—the LDNPS also attempted to record elements of these landscapes in some detail. The value of this work lies as much in the detailed discussion of the nature of individual landscape elements as it does in the detailed recording of the landscapes.

The second chapter presents useful introductions to the types of monuments identified, divided into agricultural monuments, domestic structures, funerary and other monuments, and burnt mounds. Most of the rest of the book (pp. 37–314) is taken up with detailed discussion of the individual survey areas, which are mostly on the western fringes of the Lake District. Here we will illustrate the value of the volume by considering just one area, Burnmoor, 5.5km² of unenclosed moorland at 180–330m in elevation, just west of Scafell. This area is quite well known thanks to the presence of five stone circles: Brat's Hill, Low Longrigg NE and SW, and White Moss NE and SW. The account begins with an overview of past palaeoenvironmental and archaeological research in the immediate area. From sediments within Burnmoor Tarn, the elm decline has been dated to c. 4000 cal BC, a marked decline in oak woodland from c. 2000 cal BC, and the onset of wetter and colder conditions from c. 500 cal BC. The stone circles were known in the nineteenth century, and were recorded in detail by Aubrey Burl, who also recorded some of the surrounding cairns and excavated one of them, demonstrating it to be non-sepulchral. There were subsequent attempts to record some of the cairns, but not all. The LDNPS recorded about 600 monuments at Burnmoor, most of which were small cairns. Intriguingly, in an age apparently obsessed by 'rock art', not one example of even a single cupmark was recorded, despite the surveyors maintaining a keen lookout. After detailed descriptions, including well-drawn maps (helpfully, all maps are also included as PDFs on a CD provided with the book) and several useful photographs, some general conclusions are offered about the evolution of this particular landscape. It is clear, according to the authors, that the ritual/funerary stone circles have no apparent relationship with the surrounding cairnfields, the largest stone circle being "anomalously positioned within an agricultural plot defined by cairn alignments" (p. 115). A speculative sequence is presented, beginning with a funerary/ritual landscape of which the large Brat's Hill stone circle may well be the earliest element, followed by a series of small primary cairnfields which may relate to initial clearance of the oak woodland from c. 2000 BC, followed in turn by the setting out of 'proto-field systems' with plot boundaries, and eventually 'developed field systems' of stone banks and enclosures. The authors readily agree, however, that the chronology of this tentative system, the different elements of which probably overlap to some extent, must await scientific dating, which will one day hopefully be obtained through carefully targeted excavation.

The above summary relates only to the Burnmoor survey area—just 5.5km² of the LDNPS's 78km². Similar detailed analysis is presented for all the other survey areas. The overall results are then considered in two concluding chapters, the first of which, 'The development of the landscape', includes interrelated sections on upland settlement, agricultural development, and funerary and ceremonial monuments. There is not space to consider this chapter in detail; suffice it to say, it is essential reading for anyone interested in British upland landscapes. The final chapter, 'The changing landscape', considers the archaeological landscape in relation to present-day land use, including analysis of threats: agriculture, quarrying, forestry, bracken, climate change and recreation pressures relating to the Lake District's annual 12 million visitors. This stresses the fact that the results of the LDNPS are no less essential to effective landscape management than to archaeological research. There is still need for further fieldwork to expand on the results, and to record as yet unsurveyed areas, but this volume undoubtedly represents an important contribution to Cumbrian archaeology that will be of value to both archaeological research and landscape management for several decades to come.

Details of the survey methodology are included in an appendix; given the date of the fieldwork there is, of course, no mention of lidar, the analysis of which would be a primary stage in any such extensive landscape survey today. I doubt the general interpretations would be very different, if at all, had lidar been available, but the work may have been completed a little quicker. The methodology was certainly appropriate to the stated academic and land management objectives, and the results now enable us to study monuments within their complex, often multi-period, landscapes. They will also enable useful comparisons to be made with other upland areas where similar detailed survey has taken place over recent decades, including the south-eastern Cheviots, the Hadrian's Wall corridor and (most recently) Alston Moor in the North Pennines, where the English Heritage 'Miner-Farmer Project' has demonstrated the extraordinary complexity of the previously unknown archaeological landscape at the heart of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). In the latter case, the survey results are being built upon by targeted surveys and small-scale excavations undertaken by local volunteers as part of the AONB Partnership's Altogether Archaeology project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Perhaps a similar initiative could be set up to provide further information about some of the areas recorded by the LDNPS.

In short, if you wish to learn more about Cumbrian archaeology, upland archaeology generally, or the ways in which surveys such as this are essential to effective landscape management, then you should buy, and read, this book.