Farmers and gardeners may regard the mounds of earth produced by moles as a bit of a pest, but archaeologists from English Heritage are seeing the humble mole in a hole new light – as a fantastic unpaid volunteer.
At least this is the case with moles which have, albeit accidently, stumbled upon an undisturbed former Roman fort high in the Pennines. The site called Epiacum or Whitley Castle in modern English was once used by the Romans to control the lead mines around the Alston area of west Cumbria.
The area has been largely undisturbed except for the grazing of sheep over the past 2000 years, and today forms part of a scheduled ancient monument meaning that no one is allowed to perform an archaeological dig in the area.
Of course it seems no one told the resident moles who have for the past few years been slowly unearthing artifacts from the ground in their spoil-heaps which now dug up, the human volunteers on the site can pickup and catalogue perfectly legally. With the help of some very hardy volunteers working the site daily, the moles are offering up all kinds of tip bits from what might well become one of the most important Roman sites in the country.
There are plans to open a visitors centre in the area which might prove an interesting challenge given the remote location, but time will tell.