The Martian Chronicle III

Bulletin of the Monuments At Risk Survey
November 1995

This Chronicle is the latest in a series of bulletins covering progress on the Monuments at Risk Survey. The Project has been running since August 1994, with eight teams carrying out fieldwork, aerial photograph interpretations and research into supporting case studies. The previous Chronicles (including the IFA special edition Chronicle) each focused on different elements of the Project covering: basic principles and Project aims; an outline of the National Survey determining the character of SMRs across the country and, more recently, an updated progress report for this year's IFA conference. Limited numbers of these are still available.

This chronicle will, amongst other things, focus on the work of the aerial photograph interpretation programme located with the RCHME in Swindon, Wiltshire.

Any comments regarding the Chronicle or the issues raised in it should be addressed to Timothy Darvill, MARS Project Director, or Andrew Fulton, Project Manager.


With the passing of our first anniversary on August 15th this year, the end of MARS moves even closer. By February 1996 the Project will have completed the field survey programme. With no field surveyors on the ground anymore, this may seem like a period of quiet inactivity, but not so! During the early part of next year we will be collating some 20,000 records, setting up the data archive and continuing with our AP and research programmes.


The hot Summer of 1995 created ideal conditions for our six field teams to get on with visiting monuments, often as it happened, working in some of the more remote areas of the English countryside. Project records for some 12,000 monuments have been created to date, each based on fieldwork in the Project's study areas, scattered at random across the country. Figure 1 shows those counties where fieldwork has been completed, where it is happening at the moment, and where it will be moving to over the next four months. Perhaps surprisingly, there has been a low rate of access refusals to date, but many landowners have commented on the sheer number of field workers visiting their land for different purposes. Perhaps no more than a coincidence, but it does beg a question about the level of fieldwork occurring across the country. When visiting sites, the field teams make every effort to talk about sites with the landowner / tenant / manager and discuss general land management issues.


The value of aerial photographs as a source for discovering archaeological sites is well known, particularly amongst archaeological curators such as RCHME and the network of local SMRs. In recent years photographs have also been used to observe and monitor physical changes affecting the state of archaeological monuments. MARS has developed this approach further to allow a series of 'condition snapshots' to be strung together creating a picture of monument condition and change through time. There are, however, some limitations to this work and these need to be recognised.

  1. Photographic coverage (for oblique and vertical photography) RAF coverage from the 1940s has proved most useful in defining the start point for research. With very limited coverage prior to this date, the Project will take the 1940s as the start point for the programme. (Our central research work will support this data with case studies on individual monuments and how they have fared over a longer period of time).

  2. Print quality is highly variable in terms of the scale at which photographs have been taken and printed. Generally, the collection of obliques have been taken specifically for archaeological purposes and are at a larger scale than the available verticals. This allows more detailed observation of monument traits than the archive of verticals, which although taken at higher altitudes and therefore smaller scales, are most useful in allowing corrected measuring of individual sites.

    With the emphasis on gross change, there are further limitations to information gleaned from these photographs. It is not possible for instance, to read subtle decay from soil poaching, peripheral damage, and similar localised agents of decay.

  3. Photographic sources. The Project has a team of four interpreters and an archive assistant based with RCHME at their Swindon Headquarters. The Royal Commission have supported MARS in providing access to the 100,000 or so photographs we aim to analyse over the coming year. With such large numbers of pictures to analyse, the overall sample based on a five percent subset of England's land surface is targeting those monuments within the study areas which have a good temporal range of photography, that is between 1 January 1945 and 31 December 1989. The ideal model for our work would show 'snapshots' on monument condition, one each for the last five decades. The snapshots are based on a range of photography, where possible covering a variety of seasonal flights and over a number of years within each decade.

    In practice, gaps appear in the coverage, particularly during the 1970s and 1980s. The RCHME's archive of over 4 million prints has already been mentioned as the primary source. However, good quality coverage is also available at County level, and of course through Cambridge University's collection (CUCAP). These will be used where appropriate.


Assessing long-term change to the condition of ancient monuments is not easy, even over the 50 years or so, which is the main concern of MARS. At the general level it is well established that land-use over and around a site is the key to understanding condition and survival. A basic hierarchy of different land-uses can be established on the basis of their preserving effects, or lack of them: this can be called the "hostility hierarchy". At one end of the scale is major earth moving operations, at the other the development or perpetuation of cover-deposits such as living peat or colluviation. In between are such land-uses as cultivation, forestry, pasture and heathland.

Linkages between land-use, land-use change and archaeology are important to MARS at two levels. First, a general picture of changing condition can be developed by looking at decade on decade monuments, within the "hostility hierarchy". Proportions of monuments have moved down the hierarchy - for example from pasture to arable to hand-planted woodland. By recording the land-use on and around monuments through photographs and field-checking their changes can be quantified. The field-checked dates will also be the base-line from which future changes can be gauged.

At a more detailed level the MARS case-study research team are looking to see what the long-term effects of different land-use types might be on archaeological remains of different sorts: artefactual; stratigraphic; environmental structure; and so on. These sorts of questions do not seem to have been examined before, and yet are crucial to many of the management prescriptions now being developed. One solution is the deployment of scientific monitoring devices, but these require a long-term commitment to measurement and careful documentation. At this stage it is important to identify the issues involved so that a programme of more detailed work can be built up in future. Having said this, however, there are a number of site monitoring programmes already up and running. The MARS research team would be very interested to hear of work of this sort known to readers, and of possible opportunities for the establishment of new programmes.


Since its launch MARS has been gathering information in order to develop an understanding of what is known as the "archaeological resource": the sites, monuments, remains and deposits representing the raw materials from which knowledge of the past is constructed. One crucial preliminary inquiry, completed this summer, was a survey of the information held by national and local SMRs.

Analysis of data from the survey is only just beginning, but already important results are emerging. These emphasise the range and quality of work done over the last decade, but also highlight challenges for the future development of our archaeological databanks.

Most remarkable is the increase in the number of records held by county and district SMRs. As Figure 3 shows, in 1983 there were approximately 302,500 records in county SMRs, now there are 657,600 records. A 115% increase over a decade is no mean achievement.

Of these records approximately 487,500 (76.6%) can be regarded as archaeological monuments of one sort or another; the remainder relate to stray finds, general information, and so on. Assuming an even distribution this gives an average density of 3.65 monuments per square kilometre across England. In fact, the distribution is far from even and one challenge for the next decade is to test the apparent irregularities and enhance records accordingly.

SMR officers currently anticipate a further 43% increase in the number of records as extant source material is catalogued. This means that by the early years of the 21st century there will be about 1 million items of archaeological interest recorded in our SMRs, such a large number that it raises the question of whether present systems are adequate.

The biggest increase in recent years has been SMR coverage of post-medieval remains. The number of post-medieval records rose by 300% between 1983 and 1994. This was almost certainly because of the extensive use of place-name and map-based sources for SMR enhancement by comparison, the number of prehistoric records rose by only 62%.

The way that archaeological databases in England have grown in recent years has a serious down-side for the sort of work that MARS is carrying out. Because most recent endeavour has been at the local level, piecing together national pictures is increasingly difficult whether for management strategies or academic research. The number of individual SMRs has grown as more districts (mainly urban areas) create their own local SMR. The establishment of unitary authorities, and new powers to National Parks, will no doubt accelerate the process of diversification, making it increasingly difficult to identify who holds the definitive archaeological record for a given area.

In the time between now and the publishing of the Project's results, during 1997, changes and developments in the structure of local Authority archaeological services will raise further issues for MARS to tackle. Perhaps you have a particular view on the future of local authority archaeology? The project is interested in your views, to register these, please write to the Project Manager at the address below.

READ ON.....

The following detailed accounts of the MARS Project and its aims have been published:

T. Darvill and G. Wainwright, 1994, The Monuments at Risk Survey: an Introduction. Antiquity 68, 820-24.

T. Darvill and G. Wainwright, 1995, The Monuments at Risk Survey, an Introduction. Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites, 1, 59-62.

Four wheel-drive enthusiasts might be interested to see:

A Fulton, 1995 MARS Surveys the past. Land Rover Fleet World, 13.

A video outlining the Project and its aims is available for 6.00, by sending a cheque / postal order payable to Bournemouth University to the address on our home page.

© The MARS Project 1996.