Being part of a commercial archaeology company means much more than just digging (although thats important too!). Over the coming weeks and months we will be running a series of posts entitled What We Do, which will explore different aspects of an archaeologists work. In the first instalment, we look at our role in the increasingly important world of renewable energy.
People have lived on this island for 10,000 years and they have left their mark everywhere. Our heritage is protected by the law and all developers have to give consideration to this when preparing their construction plans. Windfarms are no different, and they need to be investigated archaeologically to see what impact they are going to have on the country’s archaeology.
Unlike wind energy, archaeology is a non-renewable resource. This delicate and unique asset provides us with important evidence for the activities of our ancestors. The impact of wind farms on archaeology can be wide ranging and severe. Often fragile and irreplaceable archaeological remains can lie hidden beneath the surface in the most unpredictable places. As well as that, such developments can impact on the visual amenity of some of our most impressive upstanding monuments; important views to or from monuments which have escaped obstruction for millennia may suddenly be obscured.
The majority of wind farms are located in upland areas. Because they are often so remote, a lot of upland archaeology is well preserved and frequently hidden by peat, increasing its potential significance. It has also recently become common to locate wind farms offshore. Sea levels and our coastlines are constantly changing and what was once dry land may now be submerged. These submerged landscapes can contain evidence of our ancestors and the environment in which they lived. It is also essential to take account of more recent archaeology such as shipwrecks and military remains.
So what do we do on these sites? Normally, our participation would start at the Environmental Impact Assessment stage. This usually happens before the development is approved and involves the writing of a report that assesses the potential for archaeology at a particular site. Our archaeologists look at historic maps, aerial photographs and archaeological records before visiting the site and forming a judgement on the likely scale and significance of the archaeology. Where necessary our survey team will also visit the site to record any known archaeology; in underwater situations our maritime team will become involved to add their expertise to the assessment. This report is often followed with archaeological testing, where exploratory trenches are dug across the proposed locations of elements such as the turbines and access tracks to see if any archaeology is present- if it is, only then will full archaeological excavation become necessary.
In many respects, the renewable energy sector is ‘bucking the trend’ when it comes to the recession both in Ireland and Europe. Over recent months we have found more and more requests for our consultancy services coming in for windfarm developments throughout Britain and Ireland. It is clear that renewable energy in general, and windpower in particular, is one of the growth areas for the future, and with this growth will come an ever improved understanding of our upland and maritime archaeological heritage. Archaeologists play a major role in the process which leads to the increase in supply of this energy resource, so remember the next time you pass a set of wind turbines on your travels, that no matter where you are in the country, an archaeologist was probably there first!