Flying through Cornwall’s past: the story of its land and of its people.

 


Exploring Time From The Sky

 

The landscape over time. The pattern of small irregular fields along the coastal strip of West Penwith is based on the field layout of late prehistoric farmers who grew crops here and grazed their animals in the moorland beyond. Photo © Cornwall County Council Historic Environment Service
The landscape over time. The pattern of small irregular fields along the coastal strip of West Penwith is based on the field layout of late prehistoric farmers who grew crops here and grazed their animals in the moorland beyond. Photo © Cornwall County Council Historic Environment Service

 

Many aspects of Cornwall’s past are embodied in the landscape of today. Aerial photos offer an exciting way of exploring how this landscape has developed over time.

 

By exploring Cornwall’s past you will see an overview of the results of Cornwall’s National Mapping Programme, a twelve year long project in which we mapped all archaeological sites in Cornwall visible on aerial photos. Whilst Explore Cornwall’s Past is not an exhaustive account of Cornwall’s history and archaeology, it does tell a remarkable story of the past seen through aerial photos.

 

The overview is divided into five themes, each theme covering an aspect of Cornwall’s past where our knowledge has been broadened by the project.

 

Ceremony and Ritual

The earliest monuments in the landscape today date from the Neolithic and early Bronze Age, between three and a half and six thousand years ago. Little is known of settlements from this period; they were probably flimsy wooden structures which have left little trace. What we do know of the early inhabitants of Cornwall and Scilly comes from their tombs and ceremonial monuments, many of which we mapped during the project.

 

Farms, Villages and Towns

Agriculture has always been the mainstay of the Cornish economy. Towns only begin to appear in any numbers after the twelfth century. Before then the landscape was dotted with farming settlements; some were isolated farmsteads but most were small villages or hamlets. We have mapped numerous ancient farms from aerial photos, the oldest of which were built around three and a half thousand years ago.

 

Defended Cornwall

Cornwall’s position guarding the western approaches to the Channel was of enormous strategic importance. Numerous buildings and other structures, from castles to airfields, survive which were constructed in times of hostility and war. Military installations from the Second World War were widespread and many of them are recorded on RAF aerial photos taken after the war by air crews awaiting their return to civilian life.

 

The Industrial Landscape

The past economy of Cornwall was based on a diverse range of industries, including metal mining, china clay production, and quarrying. The transformation of the countryside made by the granite and slate quarries, china clay works and, in particular, the tin and copper mining industries are a most striking aspect of Cornwall’s archaeological heritage.

 

Decoding the Landscape

The other four themes explore the landscape at one point in time, or focus on an individual aspect of Cornwall’s past. This theme shows how the modern landscape has developed over time and is in reality a composite made up of many episodes. These have left many signposts to the past, from ancient Cornish hedges and the field patterns they form to moorland heaths subjected to thousands of years of summer grazing. The whole landscape is filled with historic meaning which is vividly revealed by aerial photos.

 

 

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