Largest Roman Site in England?

19 April 2011
Posted by Chris Smith.

Diana - This one's passed fairly quietly under the news radar this month, partly because it ended up on Time Team! But it looks like diggers have found what could be one of the largest archaeological sites in England. And it's been hidden safely away under a forest called Bedford Purlieus Wood.

Duncan - So exactly what is hidden beneath the trees?

Diana - So far they've found evidence of ironworks - so Tom Birch would be straight onto that - there are tools, nails and a furnace. So some of this site looks to be quite industrial in nature. But there's also evidence of living quarters including underfloor heating and bathing facilities.

Duncan - Why is this only being reported now? If it's so big then how is it that no one fell onto the remains earlier?

Diana - Well someone did. The nineteenth century antiquarian Edmund Tyrell Artis claimed to have discovered several Roman items and burials in the area, but nothing was ever followed-up on his findings until 2008 when council archaeologists had a quick poke about. The other protective factor is the tree cover. Aerial photographs aren't much help for much of the site, and earthworks might not be quite so apparent. One of the archaeologists on the site, Tim Yarnell, has said that the fallen leaves and humic earth actually served to protect the remains. So they're even finding bits of plaster complete with original paint colours.

Duncan - That's pretty impressive. And I think it demonstrates how important it is to look after what little woodland the UK has left!

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