Discover Barnsley’s archaeology online

The archaeology of Barnsley takes many forms, from stray finds to buried features and even standing structures. As part of our Festival of Archaeology blog series, Dinah Saich, Principal Archaeologist with South Yorkshire Archaeology Service (SYAS), tells us how you can find out more about the archaeology of Barnsley from the comfort of your own home.

South Yorkshire Archaeology Service are one of a number of heritage organisations that work together to look after the important archaeology of Barnsley. The first step in looking after any archaeological site is finding out more about it – including where and what it is! South Yorkshire Archaeology Service keeps a record of information about all known archaeological sites in the borough from various sources, gathered over many years. This is called the Historic Environment Record, or the HER. Records in the HER can be based on archive documents, such as historic maps and photographs, stray finds (archaeological objects) that have been picked up, or features identified through archaeological digs. The record is always a work in progress and is continually updated as new information is gathered, or we re-evaluate old information. If you want to find out about the archaeology of your local area the HER is always a good place to start.

Heritage Gateway

A lot of the information that we have is available to search via the Heritage Gateway website, along with information held by a number of other heritage organisations. You can use the ‘quick search’ function to find records. So, for example, typing in the placename ‘Wortley’ into the Heritage Gateway search produces a list of 63 entries in the South Yorkshire records. You’ll see that one of the other datasets being searched is Historic England’s National Heritage List, which will bring up records of any listed buildings or scheduled monuments in the search area at the same time.

It may be that when you read one of our records you can see we have missed some information, or misunderstood some evidence. In that case, we would love to hear from you. Please drop us an email, quoting the name of the record and relevant HER number, telling us the changes you suggest and why.  As I said, the record is always a work in progress!

alt="archaeologists exploring ruins in a wood"
SYAS staff exploring archaeological remains during a site visit to Wortley Low Forge, a Scheduled Monument (photo credit SYAS)

Archaeology Data Service

In order to find out more about the archaeology of a particular site, further investigation might be required. This can range from a desk-based assessment, that pulls together all of the previous-known evidence about the site, through to excavation. Increasingly, the reports produced from this sort of fieldwork are made available online. So, if you know that fieldwork has been undertaken (maybe you’ve seen a reference to a report as a source on one of our records) there is another website that you can check. This is the ‘grey literature library’ accessed via the ADS website.

This website also has a search function, and again, probably the easiest approach is to use a place name. If we go to ‘search reports’, simply put ‘Wortley’ in the ‘where’ box and then press ‘search’, it pulls up 7 reports – including one that isn’t from our South Yorkshire Wortley. You could narrow the search by selecting ‘parish’ instead of the default ‘site name’ – this pulls up 3 reports. Once you’ve found a report that you’re interested in, it can be downloaded as a PDF and you can read it at your leisure.

alt="earth in black and orange layers with scale rule up the side"
Archaeological layers in a trial trench at Low Forge, Wortley (from a report by CS Archaeology, available to download from the ADS website)

South Yorkshire’s Historic Characterisation

As well as individual sites, we are also interested in the wider landscape around them, and the evidence for how that landscape may have changed over time. Thanks to grant funding we were able to carry out a project to look at the development of landscapes across South Yorkshire. The results of this South Yorkshire Historic Environment Characterisation project are available on the SYTimescapes website.

On this website, in the ‘What have we learnt?’ section, you can again search for place names as a ‘keyword’ search. Or you can search by postcode. Select each place to read about how its landscape has developed over time. You will also find a link from the entry you’ve chosen to a wider overview in the ‘zone’ descriptions. (The interactive mapping element is not currently working, so don’t try following the map links!) If you search on ‘Wortley’ as a keyword, you’ll see that the first entry it pulls up is a discussion of Wortley Old Deer Park, which is linked to the ‘Private Parkland’ zone description. Happy reading!

alt="website page showing historic character areas on a map"
Screenshot from the SYTImescapes website

Portable Antiquities Scheme

We’re just one of a number of organisations that work together to look after Barnsley’s archaeology. I’ve already mentioned Historic England, who advise on Scheduled Monuments. Also important is the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Their role is to encourage recording of archaeological objects over 300 years old, particularly those found by members of the public. Our Finds Liaison Officer (who we share with West Yorkshire) works hard to liaise with finders and help their record finds and add them to a national database. This database can be searched via the Portable Antiquity Scheme website.

The database has a quick search function, which allows you to do a free text search. Put ‘Wortley’ in and see what you get! There is also a more detailed ‘advance search’ that allows you to be more precise in searching. Here, for example, you could choose to search on ‘Wortley’ as a parish in the county/district of Barnsley – this search pulls up 14 records, all metal objects, which will have been found by metal detectorists. When you pick one of these objects to look at, you’ll see the search also helpfully identifies other similar objects, for comparison.

alt="ornate white six-sided object 2.5cm across with star of david decoration and round hole through the middle"
Lead spindle whorl of Medieval date. Rights Holder: West Yorkshire Archaeology Service, reproduced under Creative Commons License

To Conclude

There is a lot of archaeological information available online. I’ve used Wortley as an example here but obviously you can do these searches for any place in Barnsley. There is always something interesting to find out. I hope with this quick run through has demonstrated that you really can discover the archaeology of Barnsley from the comfort of your own home!

South Yorkshire Archaeology Service are archaeological advisors for Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield. Find out more about our work, or get in touch with us, via our website. As a result of Covid-19 our office and search room is currently closed (July 2020) but we will do our best to deal with any enquiries.

Have you read our other recent blogs?