Elmswell 2018

14th - 26th August

From a deserted Medieval village to a Roman villa, Iron Age settlement, mesolithic flints and more, this dig has it all. Support this dig to help us uncover ancient Yorkshire.

19.2% Funded
74 Days left
£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 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

When will I get my goodies?

If you join the crowdfund before 14th December 2018, we’ll send your rewards (like t-shirts and chocolate artefacts) in time for Christmas.

If you join the crowdfund after that, we’ll send them 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!

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.

Where is it?

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, so you’ll have to book your own.

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 suite 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 you’ll need to bring your own lunches.

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

We’ll run 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.

Join the team today

Support great archeology by helping us reach our crowdfunding goal.

Digital Venturer

Join our online community and watch the dig unfold online. You’ll get videos from our archaeologists, virtual artefacts that you can examine, and updates from the lab after the dig has finished.

You Name In Lights

Upgrade your support for a credit in the official Site Report. It’s a bit like getting your name inscribed in a medieval manuscript, but better!

+ Digital Venturer

Team T-Shirt

It’s Ritual. Pardon My Trench. We Don’t Dig Mondays. Our famous archaeology team t-shirts are well known for making a statement! At this level, we’ll send you our latest design, as worn by our team – don’t worry, we’ll keep it clean while we’re on site getting dirty!

Estimated delivery: Order by midnight 14th Dec to receive before the holidays
+ Digital Venturer + Your Name In Lights

Chocolate Artefact

A priceless artefact that you can EAT? Yes, we’ll send you a full-size chocolate cast of our most iconic discovery yet – an intricately carved Anglo-Saxon namestone. It’s so good you’ll have a tough time deciding whether to eat it, or exhibit it.

Estimated delivery: Order by midnight 14th Dec to receive before the holidays
+ Digital Venturer + Your Name In Lights

Archaeology Jewellery

Probably our most exciting reward yet! This playful necklace is hung with six iconic artefacts, each representing a different era. Handmade exclusively for our crowdfunders by British jeweller Tatty Devine, you can be sure this is one piece that will NEVER go out of fashion. You can also buy the charms individually in our shop – the perfect reward for supporting archaeology in style!

Estimated delivery: Order by midnight 14th Dec to receive before the holidays
+ Digital Venturer + Your Name In Lights


Archaeology isn’t just for adults. If you’ve got a budding archaeologist on your hands, we’ll give you and your child a full day of archaeology and fun on our dig, where you can make a real archaeological discovery together!

Dates: Saturday 18th August 2018
Includes one parent-child team. Suitable for children aged 6-11

Dig For A Day

Make your dream of being an archaeologist come true and spend a day digging alongside our team! Grab a trowel, try something new, and make a REAL archaeological discovery on the dig. No experience needed – we’ll teach you everything you need to know.

Dates: Any Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday or  Sunday between 14th-26th August 2018
+ Digital Venturer + Your Name In Lights + Team T-Shirt

Dig For Two Days

Join the team for two days on site and you’ll get plenty of trowel time, plus a chance to try out some extra archaeological skills, like how to provide the aftercare for your discoveries. If there’s a better way to unwind after a hard week at the office, we’ll eat our hats.

Dates: Start on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday for a Dirty Weekend!
+ Digital Venturer + Your Name In Lights + Team T-Shirt

Friends With Benefits

Dig For Two Days, bring a friend and get a 20% discount. Because with two of you in the trenches, digging will be twice as much fun!

Dates: 14th-26th August 2018. Start on any Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday for a Dirty Weekend!
+ Digital Venturer + Your Name In Lights + Team T-Shirt

Dig For A Week

Now you’re getting some proper archaeology action! Come for a week and get trained up as an archaeologist. You’ll be in the trench from Day One and learn a bunch of extra skills, like how to locate archaeology, analyse what you find, and provide the aftercare for your discoveries. Who knows what you’ll discover?

Dates: Start on Tuesday 14th or Tuesday 21st August 2018
+ Digital Venturer + Your Name In Lights + Team T-Shirt

Dig For A Week - Students!

Archaeology student wanting to top up your field skills? DigVentures is the UK’s only CIfA-accredited field school, and a week digging alongside our team will give you the chance to use some of the most cutting-edge field techniques. We’re even happy to give you a skills assessment and targeted training. We will require email confirmation of enrollment status from your tutor.

Dates: Start on Tuesday 14th or Tuesday 21st August 2018
+ Digital Venturer + Your Name In Lights + Team T-Shirt

Dig For Two Weeks

Spend two weeks doing archaeology with our team, digging, learning a bunch of extra skills and putting it all into practice so that you can walk away with the confidence to use them – wherever archaeology takes you next. Seasoned pros would trade their favourite trowel for an opportunity like this!

Dates: Start on Tuesday 14th August 2018
+ Digital Venturer + Your Name In Lights + Team T-Shirt

Don't Dig For A Day - Finds Lab!

You don’t have to dig to do archaeology! Come and spend a fascinating day in our warm and cosy Finds Lab, helping us to clean, sort and identify all the artefacts that come out of the ground.

Dates: Tuesday 21st, Thursday 23rd, Saturday 25th or Sunday 26th August 2018
+ Digital Venturer + Your Name In Lights + Team T-Shirt

Don't Dig For Two Days - Finds Lab!

Two days in the Finds Lab means you get to handle twice as many finds, and have double the fun! We’ll have you knowing your bones, ceramics and any other material that comes out of the ground.

Dates: Start on Tuesday 21st, Thursday 23rd, or Saturday 25th August 2018
+ Digital Venturer + Your Name In Lights + Team T-Shirt

Don't Dig For A Week - Finds Lab!

A week in the Finds Lab and you’ll be up there with the likes of Helen Geake! As well as learning to carefully clean, sort, and identify the finds, you’ll make headway into what archaeologists do with them next.

Dates: Start on Tuesday 21st August 2018
+ Digital Venturer + Your Name In Lights + Team T-Shirt


Sign up to DigMail

No nonsense. Just dig alerts and the insider's view on the week's biggest archaeological discoveries.