An impression of the Bronze Age landscape on Little Asby Common, by James Innerdale
Little Asby Common (or Grange Scar and Little Asby Scar) is an upland landscape of considerable time-depth. In the first two decades of the 21st century archaeological investigations have revealed around 200 sites.
The landscape would have appeared very differently in the Mesolithic period (10,000-4,000calBC). A pollen assemblage indicates an environment of abundant mixed woodland vegetation, dominated by hazel-type, oak, elm, birch, pine and finally alder.
The first evidence of human activity is in the early Mesolithic, with them using fire deliberately to clear trees. This clearance activity continues into the Bronze Age period (2,600-700calBC). The first evidence of arable farming dates to the Neolithic period (4,000-2,200calBC), continuing into the Bronze Age. There is a cairnfield dated to the early Bronze Age which meant stone was being cleared from land in addition to trees. The largest feature on the common is the co-axial field system dated to the mid-late Bronze Age. The surviving traces consist of roundhouses and livestock enclosures, evidence of pastoral farming, as well as subtle evidence of terracing for arable farming. This is evidence of widespread, organised farming across this landscape.
By the end of the Bronze Age there is a general sparsity of tree and shrub pollen, suggesting regional woodland clearance had occurred. Evidence infers a largely open environment of sedge moorland with perhaps isolated stands of certain tree species and scrub.
Jumping to the medieval period – the grant of Asby Grange was confirmed in 1247. The grange was part of Byland Abbey on the edge of the North York Moors. The wall on the north of the common (Grange Scar) is part of the external boundary of the monastic grange. However, it was built in two phases, the lower part of which might relate to a possible Anglo-Saxon period farmstead nearby.
The common has a number of rectangular structures with associated enclosures. These shielings typically date from the 7th to 17th centuries. They signify transhumance activity, where households would accompany their stock on the uplands over the summer months. They were structures that would be returned to year on year.
The land’s most recent history is as a common. It is actively managed by the Asby Commoners Association (and has been owned by the Friends of the Lake District since 2003).
David S Johnson, Dry Stone Walls Survey Project Report (2022, unpublished report) (summary report here)
Oxford Archaeology North, Sunbiggin Tarn Palaeoenvironmental Assessment Report (2022, unpublished report)
Oxford Archaeology North, Little Asby Through the Keyhole: Community Archaeology Excavation Season One Report (2022, unpublished report)