The Upper Derwent: Long-term landscape archaeology in the Peak District: PhD thesis, University of Sheffield (2003)

William Bevan, 2005

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William Bevan (2005) The Upper Derwent: Long-term landscape archaeology in the Peak District: PhD thesis, University of Sheffield (2003) [data-set]. York: Archaeology Data Service [distributor]


The Upper Derwent: Long-term landscape archaeology in the Peak District is a landscape history of the Upper Derwent, an area of Pennine valleys and high moorlands situated in the north of the Peak District National Park and to the east of Sheffield. The aim is to interpret how the landscape of the area has been inhabited, perceived and organised for the 10,000 years since the end of the last glaciation up to the present century. Interpretation is based largely on my own fieldwork undertaken on behalf of the Upper Derwent Officer Working Group - a partnership of local organisations involved in the management of the area. The rationale for this is the recognition that the modern landscape is the product of the past; that the ways people have perceived and used the landscape over time have contributed to its character today. The heather-dominated peat moorland may be highly valued today as a recreational resource for those living in cities. Yet, its existence is the result of past uses of the landscape, first forming in prehistory after clearance of post-glacial forests and being maintained throughout the historic period as common land used for grazing and peat cutting.

There are two fundamental issues that have to be addressed in attempting such a study, which are related to reconciling different scales of time and geography. One, is how to write long-term landscape history that covers a time-span extending way beyond a person's comprehension of their past world as understood through personal memory, storytelling and folklore or by other forms of archive. Huge changes in the organisation of society, materials available for interpretation and perception of the landscape occur over a time-span of 10,000 years. Choosing the appropriate level of detail is important, and requires a balance that enables a close-grained understanding of the landscape at any one time while comprising enough brevity to maintain the flow of the history. The second is to try to interpret a local geographical area in its wider context. There are two dangers here. Evidence from the study area may be interpreted in a vacuum that gives great descriptive detail but does not interpret the lives of people in the locality in relation to wider or long-term social changes. Alternatively, wider changes may be applied unthinkingly onto the study area, so that actions in the local landscape are seen simply as manifestations of general phenomena. This risks losing the aspect of regional variability and demotes people as passive reactants to forces beyond their control. I shall explore writing the landscape history of the Upper Derwent in a form that attempts to resolve these temporal and spatial issues. This requires moving between different scales of analysis, from the local to the wider world, and from the historically specific to the longer-term.

There have also been a range of more specific themes that have come out of this study. These include long-term environmental change, the changing nature of tenure, the evidence that specific locales were repetitively occupied over time, the participation of the area in regional social identities and how we can approach the variability in archaeological visibility/invisibility which occurs over such a long time-span. I shall come back to review these in the discussion (see Chapter 10), as well as highlighting them in individual chapters.

Underpinning all of this is the character of the archaeological evidence surviving in, or related to, the Upper Derwent. Its nature and survival varies enormously and the available evidence includes specific sites, artefact findspots, boundaries, environmental data, written documents, historical maps and wider areas of land-use. There are some periods, such as the post-medieval, where the amount of data is almost overwhelming but it is possible to reconstruct use of the whole landscape. There are other time-frames, such as the iron age and the early medieval period, when there is little or no evidence. I will attempt to cover all of these periods and to interpret how the long-term history of the landscape is made by successive generations of people who make decisions that alter their surroundings, changing some aspects whilst maintaining others. In applying appropriate forms of analysis to changing types of data, I aim to go from scatters of mesolithic stone tools to the early 20th century model settlement built to house navvies working on the Derwent and Howden dams.