Archaeologists dig deep for evidence of the very old days
by Richard Edwards
BOOMING Leeds is very much a 21st century city – but underneath the office blocks and apartments lies a rich historical past.
Last summer East Leeds History and Archaeology Society (ELHAS), worked on an archaeological dig in the grounds of Austhorpe Hall, near Crossgates. Members were astonished at what they found.
As well as artefacts such as Roman pottery and flint arrow heads, the society uncovered what appears to be a round barrow, or burial mound, believed to date back to between 2500 and 700BC.
The dig also uncovered the very rare feature of a post in a hole which suggests there was once a Roman-time defensive fence on the site. ELHAS was set up in 1998, and has been doing fieldwork in the Austhorpe area for more than two years.
It was able to stage last year's large scale dig, after winning a near-15,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The society's director of archaeology, Kathy Allday, said: "Our aim when we began was to secure as much archaeology as we could at Austhorpe and share it with the local community. We achieved our aim and more."
Austhorpe Hall was chosen because of the history surrounding the hall building itself, the fact the fields are undeveloped, that medieval history was known to be there and that its owners, John and Beryl Chapman, supported the project. "It fitted several criteria," said consultant archaeologist John Buglass.
"Some of the finds were once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Pre-historic sites don't tend to be very glamorous, because they are mainly holes in the ground, so to find a large site like this is unusual."
Mr Buglass said he hoped the Austhorpe experience would spur other amateur archaeologists on.
He added: "Sometimes people look abroad for archaeological importance, but if people look in their own area they may well find sites of equal importance.
"It is not as obvious but it can be more important. That is the subtle difference."
Mr and Mrs Chapman said they were fascinated by the dig. Mr Chapman, a retired farmer, has lived at Austhorpe since 1939 when his father moved there.
He said: "It is a surprise what has been found, but I had always thought there was something there because of the undulations in the land.
"I certainly did not think it would be anything like it turned out to be though."
The investigations are set to continue, as the society is considering making a bid for more lottery funding, while more digs are planned for next year.
The site itself looks set to be preserved as Leeds City Council and private company Thorpe Park plc are to create a new park on land around Austhorpe Hall.