LIDAR, an acronym for “Light and Radar,” has helped the U.K.‘s Environment Agency show changes in topography for almost two decades from its inception in 1998. Since then it has been used to determine the effects of flooding and coastal regression.
Local amateur archaeologist, David Ratledge, has also used the tool to locate ancient Roman roads between Ribchester and Catterall (near Lancaster), shedding new light on Britain’s undiscovered past and illuminating the arteries of the ancient Empire.
The Romans were notorious innovators of infrastructure, pioneering concrete, aqueducts, drainage, and, of course, roads. The first Roman road stretched from Richborough on the southeast coast, to Canterbury, where it went on to London, St. Albans, and up to Chester. Even today, some 2,000 years after the route was established, it is still one of the U.K.’s main freight roadways now known as the A2 and the A5.
Now, it is thought there are more Roman roads, particularly in northwest England, between Ribchester and Lancaster. “After only 45 years of searching, I have at long last found the Roman Road from Ribchester to Lancaster!” said Ratledge on his webpage.
The discovery not only tells us about Roman trade routes, but also about where they thought troops would need to be deployed quickly. It’s possible that the Romans were fearful of Celts near Lancaster, hence a road that could be used to send support or retreat as quickly as possible was very useful.
A tell-tale sign of a Roman road is its linear form. The Romans didn’t mess around when it came to road building and if they wanted to get somewhere, they took the most direct route possible. Staggeringly, they even managed to plot a straight line—even when they couldn’t see the end destination. This can be seen in the London to Chichester route where vision is impaired due to the North and South Downs (a range of hills).
The solution? The Romans placed beacons on high points, using their line of sight to determine the straightest possible route.
To walk the route from Ribchester to Caterall, as the Roman troops did, would take over seven hours according to Google maps.