Mysterious Prehistoric Farmers and Missing Roman Road Revealed
Decades of speculation on a Roman road’s route in southern England have ended and research confirming its location also revealed extensive prehistoric farming on the South Downs before the Romans arrived.
The discoveries were made after airborne laser scanning (LiDAR) technology was used to map archaeological remains obscured by woodland for hundreds of years. The work is part of Secrets of the High Woods, a community archaeology project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, led by the National Park Authority in partnership with Chichester District Council and Historic England.
Trevor Beattie, CEO of the South Downs National Park Authority:
“The LiDAR survey lets us peel back the woodland cover from the National Park to reveal archaeology both hidden, and protected, by the trees. One of our biggest findings is the astonishing scale of pre-historic farming. Archaeologists are going to have to rethink the human story in this part of the country.”
James Kenny, Archaeology Officer at Chichester District Council:
“It’s exciting to see such extensive field-systems so well preserved which have probably lain untouched since the Romans left 1,600 years ago. But evidence suggests that they go back much further to before Romans settled here.
“The find raises many questions. Who was growing these crops and eating all of this food? We haven’t found signs of settlement so where were they living? The scale is so large that it must have been managed, suggesting that this part of the country was being organised as a farming collective on a very large scale.
“The degree of civilisation this implies is completely unexpected in this part of the world at this time – something closer to the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians than current views of pre-historic Britain.”
From 43AD, invading Romans began a great construction project across Britain resulting in a network of roads. Archaeologists thought there should be a Roman road from Chichester towards what is now Brighton. As part of the project Historic England have confirmed that the road left Chichester on Stane Street before branching east and following a straight course towards Arundel.
Helen Winton, Aerial Investigation Manager at Historic England:
“The South Downs National Park has one of the most remarkable archaeological landscapes in England in terms of the range, extent and time depth of the archaeological earthworks preserved in the woodland.”