Tuesday, 2 August 2011

News- Project to map ancient landscape of England may reveal burial grounds under your house (National)

The School of Archaeology at the University of Oxford is to compile a map of prehistoric England for the first time.

The 'Portal to the Past’ project will allow people to look online to discover the history of their own area over 3,500 years, from the Bronze Age in 1500BC to the Domesday Book in 1086.

Professor Chris Gosden, who is leading the project, said local history is one of the most popular internet searches after family ancestors.

However at the moment the parish records will only show up to around 1,000 years ago.

The five year project, funded by £1.8 million from the European Research Council, will bring together all the available data into a digital archive to create maps and as much information as possible about prehistoric England.

Prof Gosden said most modern day parishes are based on how the land was set out in Roman estates or even before then by peasant communities.

He said there could be metal works, ancient field systems, peasant huts, a Roman villa or even human bodies under modern buildings.

“We tend to look at surface of the world we live in but as soon as you look beneath the surface there will be a wealth of ancient features," he said.

Most of the data will be from English Heritage aerial photographs showing ancient sites of interest. There is also £100 million spent every year by developers carrying out archaeological research on sites before building work begins and private research by museums and individuals.

Material will also be drawn from county archives, databases of ancient coins, and the Portable Antiquity Scheme (which records the archaeological finds made by metal detectors). Oxford researchers will work with the British Museum, the Archaeology Data Service and local history experts with a good knowledge of the period.

Prof Gosden said bringing all the information about ancient England into one website will reveal where the landscape has developed and indeed, stayed the same.

Access to maps and databases on artefacts may also help budding archaeologists or even treasure hunters to find more.

“England is extraordinary in the level of potential information about the ancient landscape,” he said.

“We hope this project will provide an in-depth analysis of the whole of England, so we can glean new insights into how the landscape has changed and developed. We want to discover what this huge database of information on ancient sites can reveal about England at a national level. Until now we have had fragments of information about landscape use during this period but this project allows us to form a bigger picture of overall patterns and regional variations within England."

The Portal to the Past website is expected to go live in 2014. It will be available through the University of Oxford School of Archaeology website at http://www.arch.ox.ac.uk/

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