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UK flood maps reveal lost Roman roads

Aerial flood maps of Britain are revealing more than just at-risk regions - they have also led to the discovery of several Roman roads.

UK flood maps reveal lost Roman roads
Maps of the UK, designed to detect the regions most at risk of flooding, are also helping amateur archaeologists to unearth 
previously undiscovered Roman roads. Pictured, file image of archaeologists at the ruins of a Roman site
 in Colchester [Credit: PA]
Amateur archaeologists have been able to use the flood-mapping technology to trace the paths of Roman roads which have remained buried under the land for some 1,600 years.

The aerial flood maps were created by aircraft equipped with laser scanners which measure the distance between the aircraft and the ground.

Using light detection and ranging (Lidar) technology, the Environment Agency was able to detect the areas of Britain which are most at risk of flooding.

The precision technology can detect differences in the height of the land of as little as 5cm, making it ideal for detecting hidden structures buried under the soil.

Although the Environment Agency has been using the technology for some 20 years, it was only made freely available to the public in 2013.

And in just two years, teams of archaeologists have already unearthed seven long-lost Roman roads across the country.

‘It is a wonderful feeling suddenly to solve a puzzle you have been working on for decades,’ retired road engineer David Ratledge, 70, who is using his retirement to trace the UK’s network of ancient roads, told The Times.

After 45 years of exploring the fields of Lancashire in search of a lost road, Mr Ratledge finally discovered a 23-mile road between Ribchester and Lancaster, thanks to the Lidar technology.

The archaeology enthusiast said that it is the first ‘new’ Roman road to be discovered in the UK for 150 years.

‘The road is remarkably clear in several sections – one stretch of prominent agger [Roman embankment] is even visible in Google Streetview,’ Mr Ratledge wrote online.

‘How nobody – me included – spotted it is a mystery.’

UK flood maps reveal lost Roman roads
Amateur archaeologists have been able to use the flood maps, produced by the Environment Agency, 
to discover seven roads in the UK since 2013. The most recent connects Ribchester and Lancaster 
[Credit: Environment Agency]
The Lidar technology helps archaeologists trace the roads because they were originally raised about 50cm above the ground.

Although they have now been eroded by hundreds of years of rain and farming work, sections of the roads remain raised.

As the Lidar technology is able to detect the raised ground with such precision, it is more effective than the human eye for tracing the route of the road, particularly across large distances.

By plotting the raised sections on a map, the amateur archaeologists are able to trace the original route of the road.

Although it was well known that there was a Roman road linking Ribchester to Lancaster, archaeologists spent decades searching for it in the wrong place.

They based their area of focus on the fact that Romans tended to take the shortest and most efficient route from place to place – and assumed that the road would run from northwest Ribchester in a straight line to Lancaster.

In reality, the road traces a line from Ribchester to Catterall to avoid the steepest hills, before angling off towards Lancaster – a route that no-one had thought of before seeing the evidence on the aerial flooding maps.

But the recent discoveries could just be a drop in the ocean of finds waiting to be unearthed, with more than 11 terabytes of Lidar surveys waiting to be analysed.

Susan Winter, of the Environment Agency’s surveying team, said there were many more discoveries to come.

‘Our current Lidar system can record up to 550,000 heightened co-ordinates per second,’ she said.

‘This gives an extremely dense network of accurate ground points that can be triangulated to give highly detailed elevation grids.

‘As well as being ideal for flood risk assessment, the data is suitable for a ride range of applications – everything from archaeology to managing forests and building computer game worlds.’

Author: Imogen Calderwood | Source: Daily Mail [January 01, 2016]

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