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Saturday, 16 July 2016

South Downs field systems -- are they really from the Bronze Age?

There has been much coverage in the media in the past week about the LIDAR imagery revealing ancient field systems near Arundel, within the South Downs National Park -- in areas now thickly covered in forest.  The press got very excited and flagged the field systems up as Bronze Age.  They are certainly very extensive and are wonderfully revealed in the LIDAR imagery,  but I cannot see anything in the press release to suggest that they are pre-Roman.  The only info in the press release is this:  "evidence suggests that they (the field systems) go back much further to before the Roman settled here."  What is the evidence?  Does anybody know?  It seems more likely to me that the pattern of field boundaries picked up in the imagery is the Roman pattern as it looked when the Romans left and Britain descended into some sort of chaos -- I would suspect that the pattern inherited by the Romans was much simpler, and on a much smaller scale.


Mysterious prehistoric farmers and missing Roman road revealed

July 12, 2016

Decades of speculation on the route of a Roman road in southern England have ended but the research which confirmed its location has revealed the extent of prehistoric farming on the South Downs before the Romans arrived.

The discoveries were made after airborne laser scanning (LiDAR) technology was used to map part of the South Downs National Park hidden under woodland for hundreds of years. The work is part of Secrets of the High Woods, a three-year community archaeology project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, led by the South Downs National Park Authority in partnership with Chichester District Council and Historic England.

Trevor Beattie, Chief Executive of the South Downs National Park Authority, said:
“The LiDAR survey lets us peel back the woodland cover from National Park to reveal archaeology both hidden, and protected, by the trees. One of our biggest findings is the discovery of a vast area farmed by pre-historic people on an astonishing scale. Archaeologists are going to have to rethink the human story in this part of the country.”

James Kenny, Archaeology Officer at Chichester District Council, said:
“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 the Roman settled here.

“The find raises so many questions. Who was growing these crops and who was 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.”

When Britain was conquered in 43 AD, a great construction project took place across southern England which resulted in a network of roads – many of which survive to this day. For decades archaeologists and historians have speculated that there must have been a Roman road leading eastwards from Chichester towards what is now Brighton. The project has confirmed that Romans heading east would have left Chichester on Stane Street before branching east and following a typically straight course towards Arundel through Binsted Woods.

Helen Winton, Aerial Investigation Manager at Historic England, said:
“The recognition of the ‘missing link’ in the Roman road west of Arundel, by Fiona Small at Historic England, was a highlight in a project full of exciting results.

“The interpretations and mapping from the LiDAR and aerial photographs by the Historic England and Cornwall Council National Mapping Programme (NMP) teams clearly demonstrated what was long suspected – 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.

“The better understanding of the area provided by the project will greatly inform future management of this valuable resource.”

Stuart McLeod, Head of HLF South East, said: “Thanks to National Lottery players, this project has opened up the wonders of archaeology to many more people and it’s fascinating to now see the results of the in-depth work that has been taking place. The research sheds new light on the history of this area and will also help to ensure its protection in the future.”

Find out more in the Secrets of the High Woods exhibition, currently on tour across the South Downs National Park.


TonyH said...

I would guess that the field systems are at least Iron Age, since this overlaps with the Romans. As for the Bronze Age suggestion, I'm sure this was stated on the BBC TV Six O'Clock News report. Perhaps the archaeologists are keeping their cards close to their chests for once.

Ancient field systems have been found, on a much smaller scale, using LIDAR, again thanks to a Lottery - Funded project, on the plateau above Bradford - on - Avon. Some of these field systems surround Bronze Age barrows and other features, still in woodland. Go to the Bradford - on - Avon Museum Society's website and look under Ancient Landscapes. The retired Wiltshire County Archaeologist, Roy Canham, has led this project.

TonyH said...

Managed to find some more info within "SouthDowns View", 'sharing stories from Britain's newest National Park 2016'.

This has a feature: "Secrets of the High Woods" which mentions the discoveries of Neolithic causeways and previously obscured prehistoric field systems. 130 volunteers were involved in fieldwork on the ground.