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A probable Iron Age or Roman enclosed settlement (red arrows) and associated field system (blue arrows) revealed by LiDAR data but hidden today beneath woodland.       Source: University of Exeter

Armchair Indiana Joneses Find Ancient Sites Using LiDAR During Lockdown

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Volunteer archaeologists working from home are revealing hitherto uncharted prehistoric burial mounds,  Roman roads and medieval farms, using LiDAR technology.

An innovative project is underway integrating scientific research with the power of the public. Led by Dr. Smart and Dr. João Fonte from the University of Exeter , and working closely with Cornwall and Devon Historic Environment Record , citizens were called on to search data bases of aerial images while on coronavirus lockdown and they revealed “roads, burial mounds and settlements - all while working from home,” according to a report in the Daily Mail .

All is Shhh… For Treasure Hunters Are Circling

LiDAR scanning technology lets archaeologists see through modern buildings and layers of vegetation, to look at the shapes of the underlying land for ancient earthworks. The researchers from the University of Exeter asked public teams of volunteer archaeologists to search through LiDAR images and aerial surveys of the Tamar Valley, in Devon and Cornwall in the south of England. The amateur archaeologists are tasked with cross-referencing any hidden topographical features against historic maps of the area and while this phase of the project focused greatly on the Tamar Valley, the same type of research is intended for land around Bodmin Moor, Dartmoor, Plymouth and Barnstaple - an area covering 1,500 sq. miles (3,885 sq. km). 

Among the new discoveries are a probable Iron Age or Roman enclosed settlement and field system, two Roman roads, 30 large embanked prehistoric or Roman settlement enclosures, around 20 prehistoric burial mounds and hundreds of medieval farms, field systems and quarry pits. This new research is greatly adding to a rapidly evolving database of heritage in the South West of England, while all traditional field surveying and excavations at archaeological sites are on hold, said Dr. Smart.

A probable Iron Age or Roman enclosed settlement, defined by a bank and ditch (red arrows). The remnants of the bank show as a pale line on the LiDAR data, and the ditch as a darker line. (University of Exeter)

A probable Iron Age or Roman enclosed settlement, defined by a bank and ditch (red arrows). The remnants of the bank show as a pale line on the LiDAR data, and the ditch as a darker line. ( University of Exeter )

Dr. Smart thinks many more, “potentially hundreds,” of new discoveries will be made in the coming weeks as more images are cross referenced, but the exact locations of the sites hasn't been made public due to the risk of treasure hunters raiding the sites before archaeologists.

Amateur Historical Sleuth Discovers Enormous Earthwork

With all excavations shutdown because of coronavirus restrictions, online archaeology courses in Britain are experiencing a rapid increase in sign-ups, according to an article in The Guardian . This news piece tells the inspiring story of wedding photographer Chris Seddon who while bored on lockdown sifted through old maps and images of the area close to his home in southern Derbyshire. He followed the course of the River Trent and noticed what he described as “an unusual feature” close to the village of Swarkestone, and he told The Guardian that he thought it looked “a bit odd, and a bit round.”

Again, it was when the feature was cross referenced with a LiDAR image, the researcher revealed what appears to be “the ghostly image of a lost henge.” Having joined a DigVentures online archaeology course, Seddon uploaded his pictures to a discussion forum. Seddon’s find caught the attention of Lisa Westcott Wilkins, managing director of DigVentures, who said the private archaeology company were very happy to say that this does indeed look like a “large henge,” which she said would be a significant find in this part of the country.

A section of a probable Roman road. The road’s ‘agger’ – the raised metaled surface – shows as a straight pale line (red arrows). A line of quarry pits show as black spots (blue arrows) and these would have been possibly used to gather material for the road . (University of Exeter)

A section of a probable Roman road. The road’s ‘agger’ – the raised metaled surface – shows as a straight pale line (red arrows). A line of quarry pits show as black spots (blue arrows) and these would have been possibly used to gather material for the road . ( University of Exeter )

Roll Up Your Sleeves and Simply Look!

With this year’s remaining excavations shutdown because of the coronavirus crisis, DigVentures free course received what they call “an overwhelming response” with 4,000 people from 69 countries currently learning how to read maps, draw plans and record potential archaeological finds from their own laptops, while locked down at home.

And only last week Carenza Lewis, professor for public engagement at the University of Lincoln , a former presenter of the hit-archaeology show, Time Team, launched Dig School with the Council for British Archaeology and Lincoln University, offering online archaeology-themed workshops. Dig School offers students of all ages and backgrounds “lively extra-curricular in-school workshops” themed around archaeology and week by week, students can enjoy developing new knowledge, ideas and transferrable skills for life and learning, including archaeological excavation.

So now you have no excuses not to roll your sleeves up and become a qualified armchair archaeologist as the world’s educators begin delivering engaged learning modules during the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Top image: A probable Iron Age or Roman enclosed settlement (red arrows) and associated field system (blue arrows) revealed by LiDAR data but hidden today beneath woodland.       Source: University of Exeter

By Ashley Cowie

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