The stones were discovered in 1896 at Hartlington and were originally thought to be the floor of a corn-drying kiln. However, over the years that followed, they became covered and were left untouched.
In 2008 members of the Upper Wharfedale Heritage Group and Ingleborough Archaeology Group excavated a corn-drying kiln at Kilnsey, which prompted Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority senior conservation archaeologist Robert White to talk to representatives of Hartlington Parish Meeting and examine similarities.
Now, thanks to financial help from the park authority, a team of volunteers from the heritage group has helped archaeologist Dr David Johnson uncover the Hartlington stones once more.
Dr Johnson said the circle of stones was either a hearth or the base of an oven because the stones had been subjected to temperatures high enough to split most of them in two. A flue ran under the hearth and under the floor of the building, distributing hot air from there to the rest of the structure.
“What is not obvious is what its use had been,” he said. “Corn-drying seems out of the question though, because that process needed low temperatures and gentle heat and the fire was always kept away from the drying floor.
“The team is now currently toying with the idea that it might have been a communal bread oven. Hartlington was part of the ancient parish of Burnsall and it is known that there was such an oven within the parish, but nobody knows where it was.
“The structure is also very near to the site of the medieval manor house, and lords of the manor controlled bread-baking in the community as they saw it as a source of income for themselves, so the oven’s location fits.”
Mr White said: “The archaeological sites of this part of the national park are particularly poorly recorded and for years this site has been a bit of an enigma.
“To make matters more complicated there is a tantalising reference to an excavation of another corn-drying kiln in Hartlington about 30 years ago, but there was no archaeological report.
“Now we are a little clearer about what was found in 1896 although, as ever, the excavation has thrown up more unanswered questions. The remains are not in a good enough condition to survive being left completely open over winter so now that the site has been properly recorded, we are intending to leave it open for the summer so that people can see it before covering most of it up again.”
Stuart Parsons, the park authority’s member champion for conservation of cultural heritage, said: “Working with local volunteers is particularly effective in raising local awareness and interest in the historic environment. Ensuring that local landowners and land managers know about historic features on their land is generally the best way of ensuring their long-term survival.”
Source: Craven Herald & Pioneer