East Yorkshire

From a deserted Medieval village to a Roman villa, Iron Age settlement, mesolithic flints and more, this dig has it all.

112.7% Funded
£16,909.00 Pledged
£15,000 Goal

Elmswell Farm 2017

There are around 2,000 abandoned medieval villages in England, and each one has its own unique story to tell. At Elmswell Farm, there’s evidence of an entire medieval village… and of settlement that goes even further back in time. Support this dig and you can help explore it!

John Fenton has tended Elmswell Farm, near Driffield in the East Riding of Yorkshire, for a lifetime. Over the years, it has produce an extraordinary number of archaeological riches – Roman coins, Anglo-Saxon burials, Bronze Age weapons and even a cache of stone tools. That’s 5,000 years worth of evidence!

Many of the discoveries were made and recorded by two of the most diligent detectorists (our famous ‘Detectologists’) we’ve ever met, but perhaps the most impressive discovery yet is a series of cropmarks that are so distinctive they can only be one thing: an entire medieval village.

In fact, it’s so well preserved that from the air, you can still see its crofts, tofts and well-established holloways (paths worn into the ground through time).

So far, John and the two detectorists have done a marvelous job of keeping all this archaeology safe, even going so far as to build a small museum – it’s an incredible achievement. But with such a huge and unexplored chunk of history lying just below the surface, more needs to be done, and together we can help them!

In 2017, we took an exploratory look at the medieval remains, proving that they’re full of evidence that can help us chart the ebb and flow of life at this well-preserved village.

It’s also obvious that Elmswell Farm has the potential to become one of Yorkshire’s most important multi-period sites. There are strong links with the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Deira, Roman ruins, and traces of Iron Age settlement.

Only a bigger excavation can reveal the full picture, and we need to raise £15,000 to do it. Why did people settle here? What jobs did they do? Were they prosperous? And why was the village eventually abandoned?

With your help, we can begin an archaeological investigation that will head ever further back in time to build up a timeline of life and settlement in the Yorkshire wolds.

This year, we want to bring the medieval village back to the surface on a much bigger scale, and really get into its nooks and crannies. We also want to head further back in time to examine the Roman ladder settlement that lies just a little deeper underground. With your help, we can do it.

Multi-period site like this are archaeologically precious, because they’re the ones that really help to tie together the stories of everyone who has come and gone over the millennia.

We believe that Elmswell Farm could easily become one of the most important archaeological sites in Yorkshire. We can see its potential, and we hope you can too!

Support this dig to start exploring ancient life in Yorkshire.

The discoveries at Elmswell Farm started back in the 1870s, when John Mortimer began excavating some of the many prehistoric burial mounds in the area. In one, he found an early Bronze Age person buried with a hawk, some amber beads, a copper dagger and a gold-decorated wrist-guard. Later, he discovered that this mound also concealed a further 46 Anglo-Saxon burials.

Then, in the 1930s, the Roman finds came tumbling in. Among them were 37 coins (one of which was Iceni), plenty of pottery and, in the neighbouring field, clear evidence of a Roman ladder settlement that had been occupied from the late Iron Age to the early Anglo-Saxon period.

As if that wasn’t enough for one farm, aerial photos taken by the RAF revealed the outline of another settlement – this time a deserted medieval village.

Over the last few years, metal detectorists have continued to report remarkable finds, and surveys have also added new details to the Iron Age, Roman and medieval villages.

What’s more, the remains of an 8th century palace were found just two miles away, and a nearby church at Driffield has been linked with King Aldfrith. With evidence of such a strong Anglo-Saxon presence in the area, it seems likely that excavations at Elmswell might also uncover new evidence of the lesser-known kingdom of Deira.

This project has grown out of the exceptionally strong personal commitment shown to the land’s heritage by the farmer, John Fenton. But it’s still a working farm, and with every passing day it becomes more and more important to figure out exactly what archaeology survives and where.

The farm has maintained the same ancient boundaries for over a thousand years, since at least the time of Edward the Confessor. Such a continuous parcel of land is  unique, and worthy of study in its own right. But the thing that makes the archaeology here so special and so valuable to our understanding of the past is the sheer number of distinct archaeological remains, which together span 5,000 years.

For archaeologists, there’s little more precious than a multi-period site like this, because these are the ones that really help us tie together the stories of all the different people, traditions and cultures that have come and gone over the millennia.

Elmswell will be especially important for anyone interested in the early medieval and medieval periods. For a start, there’s an entire deserted medieval village to be explored, complete with crofts, tofts and holloways.

There’s also the Roman ladder settlement, which includes a 4th century villa, and which seems to have been inhabited from the late Iron Age, right through the Roman period and into the early Anglo-Saxon occupation.

Now add in the fact that 46 Anglo-Saxon burials were found on the farm, the area’s links with Anglo-Saxon royalty and connections with the kingdom of Deira, and you can start to see why we think Elmswell has the potential to fill in so many historical blanks.

On top of that, the farm sits in the Hull valley, which is famous for having square, as well as round, Iron Age burial mounds. Elmswell has turned up some rather curious Iron Age finds of its own, but it also has earlier ones – including several Bronze Age burial mounds. There was also a cache of stone tools, taking us even further back in time. Again, it’s a trail of dots just waiting to be connected.

From an entire medieval village, right back to 5,000 years in the past, Elmswell Farm has so much just waiting to be explored. We can see its potential, and we hope you can too!

Our goal for this season is to do a two week excavation at Elmswell Farm exploring the abandoned medieval village. But we also want to get a headstart on some of the other archaeological remains that we know exist, including the Roman ladder settlement.

  • Excavate the remains of the medieval village. There are buildings, ditches and heaps of pottery and domestic artefacts that got left behind, all of which can help the story of the people who lived once lived here
  • Dig trenches over some of the other ‘bits’ of Elmswell’s archaeology. This will give us all a taste of how well each part survives. We’re particularly interested in the deserted medieval village, the ladder settlement and the areas surrounding where the Roman coin hoards were found. In future, we’d also like your help to take a look at the tumuli (burial mounds) and the field where lots of stone tools were found!
  • Look for more features from the air. We haven’t explored the whole farm yet, or done a complete fly-over with our archaeology drone. Have we missed anything? There might be more that no-one’s even spotted yet!
  • Do a close-up geophysics inspection. This will mean we get to add some great new detail to our maps of things like the deserted medieval village… before we even start digging!
  • Turn the survey results into virtual landscapes. That way, everyone will be able to explore them in 3D from the comfort of their own computer!

To do it, we need to raise £15,000 – that should be just enough to cover two weeks of excavation and everything else that goes with it, including what we need in order to:

  • Plan the dig. There are some (fairly complicated) logistics involved!
  • Run the excavation. We need enough archaeologists on site to make sure that everyone who comes digging with us has plenty of expert support
  • Pay for all the ‘aftercare’. We’ll need specialists to analyse, conserve and take care of all the artefacts we find
  • Share lots of updates before, during and after the dig. It doesn’t start and end with excavation. We’ll be publishing videos, live streams, virtual artefacts and blogs so that you can watch the archaeology online!
  • Make sure that all of our data, discoveries and interpretation are freely available online. We think that the results of publicly funded research should be free and easy to access. We’ll be putting all of ours online as soon as they’re made.

At DigVentures, we believe that archaeologists can carry out internationally important research while also bringing as many people on this journey with us as possible, and making the thrill of discovery available to everyone.

What happens if we don't reach our crowdfunding goal?

We’ve set our crowdfunding goal to match the level of excavation and analysis we think the site deserves. Obviously, the closer we get the better, but we won’t abandon the dig if we don’t make it – this archaeology is too important to miss!

If we don’t reach our goal, we’ll stick to our guns and do the dig anyway – we’ll just scale down the size of the excavation to suit.

For example, we’d excavate a smaller area and send fewer artefacts off for scientific analysis (that’s the expensive bit!), but the dig would still happen and you’d still be part of our team.

That being said, we’re confident we’ll reach our goal because we know there’s incredible archaeology waiting to be found and people like YOU are willing to help us prove it!

What's included in the dig experiences?

Our dig experiences include all the tools, training and one-to-one instruction you will need in order to learn and have a great time whilst you are on site with our team. You will also receive an Info Pack and suggested bibliography for the site, post-excavation updates and a copy of the Final Report when it is published.

Travel and accommodation are not included, however there is a list of links and helpful information provided below. We’ve got tea breaks covered, however you will need to bring your own lunch and plenty of water.

What happens when I make my contribution?

PLEASE NOTE: We will be communicating with you on the email address you use for your purchase. If you haven’t heard from us, please check your junk or spam folder.

As soon as you make a contribution to the campaign, you’ll get a payment confirmation.

We’ll then follow up with a welcome email thanking you for your contribution, and (where relevant) to request a little bit more information about things like preferred dig dates, or details for your chosen reward, like t-shirt sizes etc.

You’ll need to reply to this welcome email as soon as you can to make sure we have all the details we need to get you booked in.

If you’re digging with us, we will send you an Info Pack with more information about the site, what to bring and joining instructions closer to the time.

If you need to book travel and accommodation, we’ve provided some hints and tips in the following FAQs.

If you have any other questions in the meantime, get in touch! You can reach us on hello@digventures.com, or 0333 011 3990

Which days can I dig with you?

The dig will run for two weeks from Tuesday 14th – Sunday 26th August 2018.

You can start your dig experience on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday or Sunday.

Which days can I join you in the lab?

If you don’t want to dig, but do want to help out in the Finds Lab, you can join us in the second week of the dig:

  • Tuesday 21st – Sunday 26th August 2018

You can start your lab experience on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday or Sunday.

When will I get my goodies?

We’ll send everything in May at the start of the 2018 field season.

You’ll then start getting all your digital goodies (like videos updates and virtual artefacts) as soon as the dig begins!

Where is the dig location?

The nearest village is Little Driffield. We’ll send more specific information only once you’ve joined the team!

Do you have any advice on accommodation in the area?

Accommodation isn’t included in the dig experience, so you are free to stay wherever you are most comfortable in terms of location and budget.

A quick search online will reveal that there’s plenty to choose from, from holiday parks and self-catering cottages, to B&Bs and hotels – something to suit every budget!

What about food and transport?

You’ll need to make sure that you can be in the vicinity of Little Driffield for a morning start.

And remember – you’ll need to bring your own lunches, and plenty of water!

Can I come and visit even if I'm not digging?

Of course! We love visitors, so you are welcome to stop by anytime. We’ll ralso un the occasional tour for our crowdfunders, and for people who live in the area. If you’ve crowdfunded the dig and want to come and visit, let us know!

What if I have done archaeology before, or am an archaeology student?

We are the only field school officially accredited by the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists in the UK.

We also offer a special discount rate for students – just look for the ‘Student’ benefit level.

Is there anything else I should know?

If you’re digging with us, we’ll send you more specific joining instructions closer to the time.

What if I've booked to come, but can't make it in the end?

We can either transfer your dig days to another excavation, or you can bequeath them to someone else… go on, pass on the archaeology love!

What if the weather is terrible?

Archaeology isn’t only outdoors! If the weather’s truly terrible, we can head to the archaeology lab to work on the finds… cleaning, examining and identifying the things we’ve found so far.

Who else is supporting you?

We’re grateful to the farmers, to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, to our diligent detectorists, and to all our crowdfunders so far. The dig has also received support from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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