West Heslerton by Dominic Powlesland
West Heslerton has become the site of a major new project in landscape archaeology. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly the site lies in a sand quarry which has been subjected to sand blows throughout the ages, and although these have sometimes eroded the archaeological levels, they have more often concealed them so here there is an opportunity to find archaeological remains with their upper levels well preserved.
Secondly it lies just off the chalk wolds of North Yorkshire in the area of the former glacial lake known as Lake Pickering. Star Carr is only just down the road. Thus the parish of Heslerton has a bit of everything, running from chalk wolds on one side, including the site of the Devil's Hill described in the preceding article, through the site of the present village, through the area of the sand deposits now being excavated, down to peat deposits on the banks of the River Derwent.
Hitherto the main problem of the excavations has been to distinguish the various periods of sand blow and it is already clear that there were at least 2 major sand blows, one in the Bronze Age covering a Neolithic surface and one in the Roman or Saxon period covering an Iron Age surface. Dominic Powlesland, the director of the project, was formerly a research student at Manchester University studying Anglo-saxon towns and now lectures part-time at York while writing up West Heslerton and his other research.
The excavations at West Heslerton began as an Anglo-Saxon cemetery, which still continues. One of the most remarkable recent finds was this 'ritual' horse burial, its head chopped off and placed between its legs, and its bit visible as a dark stain to the left of the scale.
Photo: Dominic Powlesland.