Archaeologists turn to moles to help uncover village's hidden past

molehill

Archaeologists are set to excavate molehills on the Priory Fields at Castle Acre - Credit: Chris Bishop

The gardener's arch foe might just turn out to be the archaeologist's best friend.

For a dig which hopes to uncover some of the unexplored past of a historic village hopes the creatures' extensive earthworks might throw up new finds.

Molehills on the Priory Field at Castle Acre, near Swaffham, are set to be excavated on Sunday and Monday.

The technique is used to minimise disturbance to the landscape. 

The dig is part of The Past is All Around Us - a Heritage Lottery-funded project which hopes to help villagers find out more about the history of their community and its wildlife.

While the history of the village's ruined castle and priory is well-known, there has been very little research into the other areas of the village.

Project manager Anne Mason said: "It's concentrating on the landscape between the high-status sites, the priory, the church and the castle.

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"We know less about the workshops and the barns on the Priory Fields."

Extensive workshops for trades such as blacksmiths and wheelwrights are believed to have stood on the site before the priory was abandoned n the 16th Century.

Ms Mason said this was where the moles came in.

"What moles do is bring to the surface any artefacts," she said. "So we're not damaging the archaeology by digging."

She added the dig would be going ahead on Sunday and Monday with the permission of landowner the Holkham Estate and anyone contemplating similar research should seek permission and surrender any finds to the landowner.

Volunteers are welcome to attend on Sunday and Monday. Ms Mason said trowels and kneeling mats would be provided and the dig would be carried out between 10am and 4pm.

"We're inviting volunteers from the village but it's open to anyone," she said. "We've got volunteers coming from other villages and Swaffham."

Other Past is All Around Us activities include documentary research, workshops and surveys.

Wildlife such as butterflies and moths is also being catalogued, while conservation plans are being drawn up for commons around the village.

A village heritage day is being planned for Saturday, September 24.