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Archaeologists to explore Cawthorne Woods for signs of medieval industry

Local people are being invited to explore South Yorkshire’s medieval past in an exciting new project starting next Monday.

The two week project is being organised by Woodland Outreach Learning Foundation (WOLF), Heeley City Farm and the University of Sheffield´s Department of Archaeology. The general public are invited to discover the fascinating history of the medieval working landscape that is now hidden within Cawthorne Woods in Barnsley.

It is known that the site hides mining features, slag heaps and other evidence of iron smelting – the process used to turn iron ore into iron and steel for weapons, tools and other artefacts. It is hoped that surveying the site, with the help of the general public, will reveal greater insight into the area during medieval times and provide the community with a connection to their local heritage.

Dr Roger Doonan, Department of Archaeology, said: “If you go down to Cawthorne Woods today you really are in for a big surprise! Preserved there amongst some beautiful woodland are traces of a previous industrial landscape. It wouldn’t have been belching chimney stacks and satanic mills, but rather small groups of people working away at local ore deposits and bringing about the magical transformation of stone to metal. Today we rely on fossil fuels to do this, but at Cawthorne they chose a more sustainable technique and relied heavily on available wood for charcoal.

“Understanding how and why these communities finally succumbed to the use of coal might give us some guidance for how we can wean ourselves off our fossil fuel dependency. Like the medieval communities at Cawthorne we are a society in transition. They were moving towards increased dependency on fossil fuels whilst we now must make the move forward to using our energy sources more responsibly.”

Sally Rodgers, Community Heritage Officer at Heeley City Farm, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity to investigate the historic woodland. Together with local volunteers we hope to make some new discoveries about how people were working here during the medieval period.”

Lindsey Bielby from WOLF commented: “The surveying is really trying to link community with local history, so finding out what happened in Cawthorne Park Woodlands many centuries ago becomes a joint venture between professionals and the general public. The public will learn survey and archaeology skills and the archaeologists will collect data and interpret the information.

“There are some major features in the wood such as bell pits and iron smelting slag heaps, so we are hoping to find other features that give more details on how people lived at this time and the methods used during industrialisation.”

This event is free and open to everyone, no experience is needed, just walking boots, a packed lunch and suitable clothes for working outside. For more information and to book a place please contact Lindsey Bielby on 07738156217 or email lindsey_bielby@talk21.com


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Source: University of Sheffield

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