Experts are calling it a historical discovery.
In an unprecedented discovery, archaeologists have found a massive road network from the Roman Empire that once crisscrossed Devon and Cornwall in the UK, connecting key settlements and military forts. This article delves into this archaeological breakthrough’s methodology, findings, and significance.
Utilizing laser scans from the Environment Agency’s National LiDAR Programme, researchers at the University of Exeter identified new Roman road sections west of Exeter. By employing advanced geographical modeling techniques factoring in gradients and flood risk, they’ve mapped the entire network, shedding light on its purpose.
Realigning History: North Tawton at the Hub
The research uncovers a surprising twist: North Tawton, not Exeter, appears to have been the primary hub, supporting vital connections with tidal estuaries north and south of Bodmin and Dartmoor. The findings are detailed in a paper titled “Remote Sensing and GIS Modeling of Roman Roads in South West Britain.”
Leading the research were Dr. Christopher Smart and Dr. João Fonte, Roman Empire heritage specialists at Exeter’s Department of Archaeology and History. Dr. César Parcero Oubiña, a geospatial technologies expert in Spain, headed the modeling.
A Paradigm Shift: Transforming Understanding
Dr. Smart commented that, despite over 70 years of study, this LiDAR technology has transformed the understanding of Roman roads, particularly in the territory of the Dumnonii. Previously, maps had shown little evidence of roads west of Roman Isca (Exeter).
Conducted between 2016 and 2022, the LiDAR Programme covered all of England. Before this, only 11% of Devon and Cornwall had been mapped. Collaborating with volunteers, the Exeter team identified around 100 kilometers of additional roads.
Intelligent Modeling: Filling in the Gaps
Though this was significant, many gaps remained. The team developed a predictive geographic information system model that intelligently deduced the likely network layout, using methods like Least Cost Paths and other strategies, identifying primary and secondary nodes.
The network connected permanent military forts like Old Burrow and The Beacon at Martinhoe and Exeter and North Tawton settlements. Researchers were able to identify 13 more kilometers of Roman road predicted by the model.
Final Stages: Extending the Network
The last phase saw the team extending the road network beyond known Roman sites, suggesting alternative routes. This led to new terminal points, especially in far west Cornwall.
Dr. Fonte notes that the network likely includes prehistoric routeways, Roman military roads, and civilian paths. This network served more than just military needs, facilitating animal-drawn vehicles and avoiding flood-prone areas.
A New Frontier for Research
The discovery may predict unknown settlement locations, urging reconsideration of the Roman South West Britain’s infrastructure investment and settlement network hierarchy. It offers an invaluable foundation for future archaeological studies in the region.
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