Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Motorway Maximus

Amazingly this road managed to avoid destruction from tree roots, suggesting that shallow rooted trees provided cover.  An oak would have smashed it all up.

Instead we get a prime example of Roman road at the height of Roman power.  The Romans did not ever truly rely on fortifications.  They were just too good at tearing them down.  Instead mobile armies quite able to match any local forces made roads a key method for projecting power.

The map shows us a road that followed the coast allowing sea borne support also.  This provided a strong base for the South of England that could be supported from Gaul in an emergency.

It was never a good plan to challenge Roman military resources before the fifth century and the collapse triggered by a sharp temperature drop and associated plague.  Sadly, England was the first outlier to be abandoned.

Motorway maximus: Unearthed, a stunning Roman super-highway built 1,900 years ago

Last updated at 11:49 AM on 7th February 2011

The 15ft-high road ran from London to Exeter

It was a route once trod by legionnaires as they marched across a conquered land.

But, eventually, the Romans left Britain and the magnificent highway they created was reclaimed by nature and seemingly lost for ever.

Now, some 2,000 years after it was built, it has been uncovered in the depths of a forest in Dorset

And, remarkably, it shows no sign of the potholes that blight our modern roads.

Half-mile long: Laurence Degoul from the Forestry Commission stands on a 15ft-high section of Roman road uncovered in Puddletown Forest in Dorset

Constructed by the Roman invaders as part of a route from London (Londinium) to Exeter (Isca), the 85ft wide earthwork stands more than 15ft high and consists of a sweeping road with deep ditches at the side.

It was so densely covered by trees, however, that although its existence was known about, it simply could not be found until now.

One of the country’s first roads, it was uncovered when the Forestry Commission, acting on advice from English Heritage expert Peter Addison, cleared the Norway spruce fir trees in Puddletown Forest. 

Mr Addison said it was the biggest Roman road he had come across and that it was probably designed to make a statement. It is thought that it might have been built shortly after the Roman conquest in the first century and its scale would have been chosen to intimidate people living nearby.

Between deep ditches: Experts believe the road's scale was to deliberately intimidate the locals - the sight of a Roman legion marching along the road would have had the desired effect

The section uncovered was built from gravel and is amazingly well-preserved thanks to never having been under the plough and later covered with a dense pine wood

The sight of a Roman legion marching along it would surely have had the desired effect.
It is thought the road would have been made from layers of gravel and the fact it still exists is testimony to the skills of the builders.

There is a central cobbled ‘street’, which would have been used for rapid troop movements, and outer ‘droving’ roads for livestock, as well as ditches for water drainage. 

Mr Addison said: ‘It’s extraordinary. It has been known about but when the Forestry Commission wanted to find it, they struggled.

‘The trees were planted so tightly it was difficult to move through them. But they called me in and I managed to find it.

‘It is part of the road that goes from Badbury Rings to the fort at Dorchester and was part of the network of roads from Old Sarum (now Salisbury) to Exeter.

Artist's impression: The Roman road being built in the Dorset forest 1,900 years ago

‘It is absolutely huge and unlike anything I have ever seen. Here you have a large road with huge ditches either side. It is raised very high which is unusual. It is only speculation, but the height might have been to make a statement.

‘It is thought this was a road made early in the occupation and not used for long. If so, then it would have been incredibly impressive to the local people.

‘In other parts of the forest we know the road was made using gravel and they probably used layers to build up the agger (embankment). They built ditches on either side to act as soakaways to prolong the life of the road. 

‘But more work needs to be done to find out these details.’ 
It is hoped that archaeologists will be able to examine the road.

A Forestry Commission spokesman said it would not be planting any more trees on it. 
The road will probably be grassed over in the future, he added.

‘We have painstakingly uncovered one of the UK’s most remarkable sections of ancient Roman road,’ the spokesman said.

Scientists had to cut down Norway Spruce fir trees in Puddletown Forest in order to uncover the half-mile long section of road between London and Exeter

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