Laser scans of the terrain in northern England may reveal the roads of ancient Rome that have been hidden for centuries.
The Environment Agency (EA) – a non-departmental public body sponsored by the United Kingdom government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) – has used a technology called lidar for the past 18 years. Lidar is a surveying technology that helped the Environment Agency collect data on more than 72 percent of England’s surface by making 3D terrain maps that revealed the contour of every boulder and ditch hidden below vegetation.
The lidar maps were used by U.K.’s Environment Agency for environmental purposes, like tracking eroding coastlines or designing flood defences. However, last summer, the EA uploaded the maps onto the Survey Online Data website, which caught the attention of many people who are very knowledgeable of history and archaeologists.
To secure their occupation, the Romans built an astonishing network of roads after invading Britain in the first century CE. Unfortunately many of those roads have been obscured by farmland, development, or have they have been stripped of their stones.
David Ratledge, a 70-year-old retired road engineer, has spent almost fifty years looking for ancient Roman roads. With the help of the new maps, Ratledge thinks he may have solved the mystery of how the Romans got from Ribchester to Lancaster. There is a road that goes from Ribchester to the main road at Catterall, which then leads to Lancaster, Ratledge wrote on the website of the Roman Roads Research Association.
Bryn Gethin and Hugh Toller, both archaeologists, used the lidar data and managed to find four other ‘lost’ roads, as well as the missing part of the Maiden Way (a Roman road), according to the U.K. Environment Agency .
The lidar technology was first developed in the 1960s. During the Apollo mission, astronauts at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) used lidar to study the surface of the moon. Nowadays, lidar has various applications, such as assessing the damage of a disaster or surveying the land for gas and oil. The technology has even been used to make portraits of people in Ethiopia.
Archaeologists who want to look for buried structures can also use lidar. Over the past few years, they have mapped the ancient city of Angkor in Cambodia, unveiled the foundations lost city in the Honduran rainforest, and discovered lost historic sites across New England – all with the help of lidar technology.
Image Source: assets.digital.cabinet-office.gov.uk