Elmswell Farm

DigVentures unearths a lost medieval village in the Yorkshire wolds. How much of it remains? Why was it abandoned? And what did its people leave behind?

113.4% Funded
/
£8,505.00 Pledged
/
£7,500 Goal
113.4%

Over the years, Elmswell Farm has produced an embarrassment of archaeological riches: Roman coins, Anglo-Saxon burials, Bronze Age weapons and even a cache of stone tools. But perhaps the most impressive is a series of cropmarks spotted from the air, so distinctive that they can only be one thing: an entire medieval village.

Elmswell Farm has all the ingredients to become one of East Yorkshire’s most important and well-known sites. We’ve got just one week to prove it and we’re inviting YOU to help us do it!

John Fenton has tended Elmswell Farm, near Driffield in the East Riding of Yorkshire, for a lifetime. Over the years, an extraordinary number of artefacts – from flint tools to Roman coins and Bronze Age burials – have turned up in his fields and he’s done a marvelous job of keeping them safe, even going so far as to build a small museum.

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

Today, John’s farm sits right on top of all this, and he’s convinced that the archaeology needs all the attention it can get, sooner rather than later. We agree!

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.

We want to excavate around these incredible discoveries, to produce new archaeological evidence that can tell a 5,000 year story about all the different people who have lived on this one piece of land.

Join the team and help us add whole new chapters to the history books at Elmswell Farm!

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 one week excavation at Elmswell Farm to figure out how much archaeology remains, how deep (or shallow!) it is, and how much survives from each period, from prehistory right through to the modern day.

  • 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!
  • Dig trenches over six different ‘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, but 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!

To make all of this happen, we need to raise £12,000 – that should be just enough to cover one week 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!
  • Pay for all the ‘aftercare’. Excavation is just the tip of the iceberg! It’s the analysis, reporting and artefact conservation that happens afterwards that are the most time-consuming and expensive aspects of any archaeological research project.
  • Hire enough archaeologists to make this a public dig that’s fun to join in with. We’ll make sure there’s plenty of dig team staff and expertise to ensure everyone has a truly insightful archaeological experience
  • Open a pop-up museum in Hull. We want to bring our discoveries right into the city, and add things to the display fresh out of the ground!
  • Write up all the results and make sure that everything we find also exists online. We think all of our data should be free and easy to access
  • Keep you all up to date 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 follow the whole process from start to finish

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.

When is the dig and which dig days are still available?

The dig is due to take place from Tuesday 14th – Sunday 20th August.

Please note that Saturday 19th August is already fully booked!

But you can still choose any or all of those days to come digging with us, but don’t dither for too long – dig places are likely to be snapped up pretty quickly!

Do I need to have done any archaeology before?

Absolutely not! All you need is an adventurous spirit and a willingness to learn – we’ll provide everything else you need to dig alongside us in the trenches.

Are there any age restrictions on joining the dig?

We have no upper age limit – the only limit is you!

Under 16s are welcome to join the dig if accompanied by an adult who is also registered on the dig.

We’re also running a DigCamp day on Saturday 19th August for families with children aged 11 and under.

What about food, accommodation and transport?

Your crowdfunding contribution covers everything to do with the archaeology, including tools, tuition and all the care we take of your discoveries afterwards.

You will have to make your own arrangements for food, accommodation and transport.

We recommend bringing a generous packed lunch and extra snacks – digging is hungry work!

 

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, so we can guarantee that however much experience you already have, we can help you get EVEN MORE experience! We’re happy to discuss any specific skills you’d like to gain while you’re with us.

We also have a special discounted contribution level for people who are studying archaeology.

What happens when I make my contribution?

We’ll send you a confirmation email straight away. We’ll then add you to our VIP Lindisfarne crowdfunders list so that you get special updates as the campaign progresses.

If you’re coming to dig with us, you’ll need to email us your preferred dig days as soon as you can.

When will I get my goodies?

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

You’ll get your real-life goodies (like chocolate artefacts and t-shirts) once we’ve finished digging and had a chance to wash our boots!

What if got some dig days 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 else can I do to help?

Crowdfunding isn’t the only way you can help! The goodwill of our community is just as important – yes, really! You can be a huge help by spreading the word among friends, family and interest groups, and by sharing our campaign and updates on social media too!

Who else is supporting the dig?

DigVentures has consulted with interested community groups including Hull Archaeological Society; Hull University; East Riding Archaeology Society; Yorkshire Agricultural Society; the Portable Antiquities Scheme; and Southburn Archaeological Museum.

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