Cropmark landscape

Barnsdale Bar is on the border between South and North Yorkshire. When Darrington Quarries applied for permission to extend their limestone quarry to the south here, a series of archaeological investigations were carried out. Archaeological Services WYAS undertook most of the work, with consultant Alison Deegan analysing aerial photographs in 2000. Alison identified an extensive cropmark landscape of fields, compounds, boundaries and lanes surrounding the quarry. A geophysical survey confirmed that the quarry extension would destroy an area of fields and compounds, and an archaeological excavation followed. 

Agricultural intensification

A rectangular compound enclosed within a single ditch was revealed. Other ditches radiated out from the sides of the compound, probably forming field boundaries. The compound ditch cut across a small circular gully that probably encircled an earlier burial mound. It is possible that the mound was standing when the ditch was dug and that the compound was deliberately aligned on the burial. 


A small metal object was found in the gully of the possible burial mound, which was either an earring, part of a brooch or a link in an ornamental chain. Unfortunately, it wasn’t distinctive enough to provide a date for the feature. Pottery was found in the fill of the compound ditch and included a decorated piece of Samian bowl, showing a scene from classical mythology – Perseus holding the head of Medusa. Samian was a high-quality table ware made in central France and exported throughout the Roman Empire. The style of the piece found at Barnsdale Bar is typical of a prolific 2nd century AD potter called Cinnamus. Most of the other pottery was made in kilns near Doncaster between the 2nd and 4th centuries AD. Burnt grains found in the compound’s ditch were radiocarbon dated – they were burnt somewhere between 262 and 539 AD. This scientific date confirms the pottery evidence and suggests the compound was in use during the Roman period and didn’t originate in the Iron Age. 

The excavations in South Yorkshire were just to the south of the North Yorkshire part of the quarry, where work took place during the 1980s and 1990s. This work suggested that there was at least one Iron Age farmstead with fields, to the north. There appears to have been a south-westwards expansion from the farmstead during the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, which involved more land being turned into fields. The compound and field ditches excavated in South Yorkshire were part of this development. This may have been in response to an increased demand for food as a result of the Roman occupation. The proximity of a small Roman fort at Burghwallis, 3 km to the south, may have been an important factor, though it is unknown for how long the fort was occupied.

For further information, please contact us:

  • tel: 0114 273 6354
  • address: South Yorkshire Archaeology Service, Howden House, 1 Union Street, Sheffield, S1 2SH
Last updated: 19 March 2021 14:54:06

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