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Roman road in Devon
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A vast new Roman road network has been discovered in England

What have the Romans ever done for us? Quite a lot, it turns out.

Written by
Henrietta Taylor

Unless you’re Indiana Jones, it’s not every day that you dig up a previously undiscovered piece of ancient history. But now, archaeologists from the University of Exeter have done just that, having uncovered a vast Roman road network spanning Devon and Cornwall.

Using sophisticated geographical modelling techniques (including laser scans – sounds cool, huh?), researchers were able to map out the network in full for the first time. The research identified new sections of road that extend much further west than was previously thought.

All this was headed up by Dr. Christopher Smart and Dr. João Fonte from Exeter’s Department of Archaeology and History.

Dr. Smart said of the discovery: ‘Despite more than 70 years of scholarship, published maps of the Roman road network in southern Britain have remained largely unchanged and all are consistent in showing that west of Exeter, Roman Isca, there was little solid evidence for a system of long-distance roads.’

He added: ‘But the recent availability of seamless LiDAR [Light Detection and Ranging] coverage for Britain has provided the means to transform our understanding of the Roman road network that developed within the province, and nowhere more so than in the far south-western counties.’

But why were the roads built? That’s where Dr Fonte comes in. He explained: ‘It is likely that the proposed network is an amalgam of pre-existing Prehistoric routeways, Roman military campaign roads or “tactical roads” formally adopted into the provincial communications system.’

The research concludes that the main reason for the network was to provide a route for animal-drawn vehicles and avoid areas of possible flooding. Neat! 

You can read more about the research on the University of Exeter website here

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