Geophysics Results: ‘Beyond the Stadium’

Community Stadium logo_ArranDuring the construction of the present Huntington Stadium back in 1989, the site’s distant past as a Roman military camp was not yet known known. Construction work began and no-one was any the wiser of the site’s historic importance. Going back further, a number of earthwork sites to the north of York were mentioned in the work of 18th century antiquarians W. Stukeley and F. Drake, although precise locations of the camps weren’t given in most cases.

The first real documentation of the camp’s existence came during an aerial survey of the area by the RAF in the early 1950s. The site was clearly visible in the photographs, but would not be noticed until March 2002, when it was spotted by English Heritage archaeologists. This image taken by Anthony Crawshaw in 2003 shows the YAT excavation of the neighbouring Camp 2 nearing completion, with the earthworks of Camp 1 visible in the field below the stadium.

YAT's 2003 excavation of the neighbouring Roman camp.

YAT’s 2003 excavation of the neighbouring Roman camp.

These earthworks clearly follow the same orientation as those of Camp 2 and have the potential for some fascinating results. After completing their survey of the stadium pitch, our team of geophysics volunteers were keen to turn their attention to these remains of Camp 1 that extend beyond the stadium. While we cannot excavate this part of the camp, we can take a non-intrusive look beneath the topsoil through geophysical survey.

This area of the camp is a scheduled ancient monument, meaning that it is protected by law and will be preserved as it presently is in the ground. Lowland fortifications of this period are not common finds, the majority having been destroyed by centuries of ploughing or redevelopment – so we are very lucky to have this level of survival!

Laying out grids in high wind.

The geophysics team setting up a new grid square.

Between March 25th and 26th, our team of intrepid volunteers braved high winds and the watchful gaze of local sheep to carry out a full resistivity survey of the scheduled monument. As the team arrived on site, the earthworks were immediately recognisable on the ground. While the defensive bank only stands to around 20cm in height, the grass grows greener on its crest, making it stand out clearly.

The line of the Roman bank can be followed by the greener grass.

The line of the Roman bank can be followed by the greener grass.

This trend is even clearer with a little digital assistance. Low banks of medieval ridge and furrow ploughing can also be seen running left to right (marked red).

The bank of the Roman camp highlighted in white.

The bank of the Roman camp highlighted in white.

With the unpredictable weather of the British springtime in full effect, the team got to work. High winds and overgrowth made the task a little tricky, but a whopping 22 grid squares measuring 20m x 20m were surveyed!

Resistivity survey in action.

Resistivity survey in action.

Not even ill-placed trees could get in the way…

YAT's Jon Kenny leading the charge.

YAT’s Jon Kenny leading the charge.

With the data gathered, our community archaeologist Jon Kenny began to look at the results. Whereas the archaeology in the stadium is highly disturbed and masked by 600mm of rugby pitch, the area of the scheduled monument is in amazing condition. While it was ploughed and cultivated in the medieval period, it seems to have been used only as pasture in the intervening centuries. This means that the site has avoided damage from deep modern ploughing and the geophysics results therefore needed little interpretation!

huntres crop


The western corner of the camp is clearly visible in a high resistance response. This appears as a dark curvilinear, complete with the curved edge of the rectangle that is so typical of Roman marching camps. The high resistance response suggests compacted ground, which makes it highly likely that the dark curvilinear represents the bank of the camp as opposed to the ditch. Loose backfill material within a ditch would offer less response to an electrical current and therefore result in a lighter image. Defensive ditches almost always lay outside of the bank, whether or not the ditch is visible in a lighter response on the left side of the curvilinear bank is up to debate. What do you think?

The parallel lines running up and down the image represent medieval ridge and furrow ploughing. Overlaid on an aerial view of the site, the results make a lot of sense, sitting right where we would expect them to be.

Geophysics results overlaid on a Google Earth view of the site.

Geophysics results overlaid on a Google Earth view of the site.

Also appearing on the above overlay are the results from our February survey of the stadium pitch. It is immediately apparent that the responses from beneath the pitch are far more subtle. But why is this?

The overlay below includes our preliminary interpretation of the results, showing where we thought we had spotted trends that may indicate the presence of Roman defences.

Geophysics and interpretation.

Geophysics and interpretation. (Yellow lines represent a modern feature.)

The subtle responses we had interpreted as camp defences now seem less likely as they don’t quite fit with the orientation of the defences seen in the latest survey. Whether these responses are from an earlier phase of activity, or the remnants of internal features, will only be known when we excavate – but it is clear that we have no clear response from beneath the pitch. There are two possible explanations for this:

– The 600mm of turf, soil, gravel and sand that make up the pitch may have hidden more deeply buried features from the geophysics equipment.

– The remains of the camp were entirely destroyed by the construction of the stadium.

Both of these possibilities are entirely plausible, only by stripping away the overburden will we find the answer. The English Heritage scheduled monument register estimates the bank to be 6-7m in width, it is likely that this will have been destroyed by the construction of the stadium. The ditch however, is thought to be 6-10m in width and potentially 2m in depth. Elements of this are more likely to have survived the 1989 works and it is the backfills of the ditch that have the most potential to tell us about what the camp was built for and how it was used.

The defences of Huntington Camp 2 under excavation in 2003. Image copyright York Archaeological Trust

The defences of Huntington Camp 2 under excavation in 2003. Image copyright York Archaeological Trust

Looking back at the excavation of the neighbouring Camp 2 in 2003, we can clearly see substantial remains of defensive ditches. Admittedly, these had never been disturbed by building works, but they had been subject to intensive deep ploughing, something we believe Camp 1 to have escaped.

So, will we find the remains of the camp? Or will the banks and ditches have been lost to the 1989 building work? We’ll have to wait until May 25th to find out!

Thanks to the wonderful work by our community volunteer team, we now know a lot more about the remains of our camp that lie beyond the stadium and as we move through the spring, we will continue to add more depth and colour to the story of this remarkable site.

See you in the trench!

– Arran


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s