Here’s where you can park your car above some really great archaeology.
There are over 6,000 multi-storey car parks in the UK. I don’t know how many there are in total, but 100,000 seems like a reasonable guess. Whatever the figure, it’s probably enough to cover most of Rutland. I’d probably even go so far as to say that by the time you’ve finished reading this blog, someone, somewhere, will have built a new car park.
In fact, the building of a new car park is one of the most common reasons archaeologists get called out. Thankfully, since being discovered under one, Britain’s most controversial king has done a lot to raise their profile and Grey Friar’s car park in Leicester is now something of a tourist destination in it’s own right.
But car park archaeology isn’t just about historic celebrities; there’s so much good stuff buried under car parks that future archaeologists could totally be forgiven for thinking these concrete plazas were ritually significant; they all seem to be located above an important ancestral site after all. Anyway, this is our hand-picked selection of the UK’s best car parks, archaeologically speaking.
Cromartie Memorial car park, Dingwall
Archaeologists find ‘Thing’ might not make a tremendous headline, but consider the fact that ‘Thing’ is actually jargon for the assembly sites that spread across North West Europe as a result of the Viking diaspora and Norse settlement. Historical investigations suggested that Cromartie Memorial car park in Dingwall might well be the site of a ‘Thing’ established in the 11th century by Thorfinn the Mighty, and excavations (only the second of its kind in the UK) confirmed that this was indeed the case. Want to visit a Viking parliament? Take a trip to Cromartie Memorial car park.
Visitors’ car park, Stonehenge
If you’ve ever been to Stonehenge, you might have noticed three large, white blobs each about a meter across set into the tarmac of the visitors’ car park. If you didn’t, look out for them next time, because they mark the location of three massive timber post-holes. Carbon dating suggests they’re about 10,000 years old, over twice the age of any other structure at Stonehenge. Although we know very little about why they were erected, we do know that at the time, the landscape would have been wooded, so the question is whether they were set in some sort of clearing. Fingers crossed that if and when the visitor centre is redeveloped, we’ll get the chance to find more clues about this enigmatic structure.
Railway Inn car park, Meols, Merseyside
Do the remains of a Viking longboat lie 3m below this pub car park? That’s a good questions to discuss over a pint at the bar of the Railway Inn. Broadly, the answer is yes, but there’s still room to quibble about exactly what kind of boat it is. The remains were originally discovered when builders were laying the car park in 1938 but, scared that an excavation would hold up work, only a small portion was revealed before the foreman ordered it to be reburied. It wasn’t until 2007 that one of the workmen’s sketches came to national attention and ground-penetrating radar was used to confirm its presence. At a whopping 30ft, it would have been big enough to transport dozens of people and their goods, but what’s strange is that it’s well over 1km from the medieval coastline. Solving that mystery is as good excuse as any to stay for another pint.
Horse & Groom pub car park, Bourton-on-the-Hill, Gloucestershire
Sort of a celebrity in his own right, this is where the Iron Age man now known as ‘Rusty’ was laid to rest. Digging through medieval layers as they got ready to build a new car park for this hugely popular pub, archaeologists found an unusual example of a medieval farm complex, with 10 rooms arranged around a courtyard. They continued digging, until they found Rusty who was curled up in the foetal position and had been given a full and proper burial – unusual for the time. The site is now underneath the pub’s new car park.
Marlowe car park, Canterbury
Right in the heart of Canterbury, what was the site of Marlowe car park turned out to be just the latest addition on a site that had been occupied for 2,000 years. Here, archaeologists found hundreds of structures, including a Belgic triple-ditched enclosure containing round-houses; a Roman public bath-house, shops and streets; Anglo-Saxon sunken structures and medieval churches with associated burials, stables and rubbish pits. Stop and ponder that when you next go shopping in Canterbury. This is car park archaeology with something for everyone.
Three Kings Pub car park, Haddenham
Excavations on a tiny corner of this pub cark park show that it’s a Saxon burial ground. Here, archaeologists found nine burials, including men, women and children… The burials included a man found lying on a decorative shield, with a knife and a spear also discovered. A beaded necklace was found around the neck and upper torso of a woman, who was also buried with a belt made with copper and iron fittings. Archaeologists believe the people were pagan but, interesting, the burials were aligned east to west, a typically Christian trait. Remember to respect the dead when you’re stumbling out of this pub after last orders – there’s probably a lot more down there still resting peacefully thank you very much.
Skerries Bistro car park, Orkney
Henry Mowatt, proprietor of Skerries Bistro, had long wondered what an 8ft stone slab was doing at the edge of his restaurant’s car park. Little did he know that when he lifted it up to find out, he’d find the entrance to a Neolithic chambered burial tomb and three pairs of eye sockets looking back up at him. Now known as the Tomb of the Otters, three seasons of excavation have revealed a subterranean labyrinth beneath the car park, with six chambers hand-cut into the bedrock, all containing pottery, flint, thousands of human bones and… an infestation of otters (hence the name). In the area? Not only does this car park have magnificent views, you can actually take guided tours (of the tomb, not the car park), all washed down by a nice fish supper. I know where I want to go next.
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