UPPER Dales residents will become amateur archaeologists this weekend when they arm themselves with spades and trowels for test-pit digging in their own gardens.

The work marks the start of the community action phase of the Swaledale Dale Big Dig – a two-year Heritage Lottery backed project to search for clues to medieval and ancient history in the villages of Reeth, Fremington and Grinton.

The first eight of more than 30 test pits on private and public land in Reeth will be dug this weekend, with further sessions planned for the village in June and July.

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The Big Dig was officially launched in March by TV archaeologist and Time Team expert Dr Carenza Lewis, of Cambridge University, and is the biggest challenge so far undertaken by the Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Archaeology Group (SWAAG).

Project manager for SWAAG, Alan Mills said: “It’s about digging pits a metre square and up to a metre deep wherever people will offer a patch of land. By piecing together the information we discover we should be able to build a broad picture about the nature and timing of the development of the human settlement, and therefore gain a better understanding of our local history.”

The Swaledale Big Dig has received funding of £76,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund and is also supported by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority. The project will run to the end of 2015. Further information is available at www.swaag.org.