Secrets of the High Woods NMP
A recent NMP survey mapped remarkable archaeological earthworks in the ‘High Woods’ area of West Sussex and eastern Hampshire. This was part of the South Downs National Park ‘Secrets of the High Woods’ project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. It is a research and community engagement project to explore the archaeology, local history, biodiversity and the heritage of the ‘Wooded Estates’.
Specially commissioned airborne laser scanning data (lidar) revealed archaeological earthworks preserved in the woodland beneath the tree canopy. The NMP contribution included analysis and recording from both lidar data and aerial photographs. This provided an interpreted map of a complex and extensive archaeological landscape, suitable for use by local communities, researchers and managers of the historic environment.
A remarkable landscape revealed
The three dimensional lidar data was processed to provide a new aerial view of the area with the tree canopy removed and showing the ground surface beneath. Previously some archaeological remains in the woods had been explored on the ground, but the lidar data revealed the form and extent of archaeological earthworks over very large areas. This demonstrated what archaeologists had long thought - the ‘known’ sites were part of a much greater archaeological landscape.
The High Woods project area contrasts with the rest of the South Downs because it has a higher proportion of woods, many classified by Natural England as Ancient Woodland. The long history of woodland management has led to the remarkable preservation of extensive archaeological earthworks. Most other chalk landscapes in the south of England have been converted to arable use. Arguably, only Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, managed as grassland for military training, has similar extensive remains of earthwork boundaries, settlements and other features ranging in date from the prehistoric to the present.
Aerial photographs provide a record of the area over the last 50 plus years by recording earthworks and also some buried archaeological features, revealed as cropmarks, in the non-wooded areas. This included settlements and funerary monuments such as Neolithic long barrows and Bronze Age round barrows.
Lost and Found: Roman Road from Chichester to Arundel
The Roman road from Chichester to Arundel was a significant discovery for the High Woods project. Ivan Margary suggested two potential routes on his map of the roads of south-east Britain published in Roman Roads of Britain (1973). In the absence of any known remains, he suggested the road followed the course of the old Arundel Road. The Secrets of the High Woods NMP project used aerial photographs and lidar to map the road for much of its length. Some sections survive as a significant earthwork agger with side ditches visible and other parts were seen as cropmarks. Traces of possible quarry pits associated with the construction, maintenance and re-working of the road material were also identified. The road, as suspected by Margary, followed the course of Stane Street out of Chichester before branching east at Westhampnett. It then kept a largely straight course to within a couple of miles of Arundel, south of the not-so-straight old Arundel Road.
The NMP contribution to the project
Aerial investigation and mapping specialists from the Cornwall Archaeological Unit and the Historic England Remote Sensing team carried out the interpretation, mapping and description of archaeological features seen on lidar and aerial photographs. This part of the project used Historic England National Mapping Programme (NMP) standards. The NMP contribution mapped a wide range of site types from all periods from the Neolithic to the mid-20th century. It also demonstrated both the great complexity and the intensity of use of the landscape within the project area.
2,298 sites were identified of which almost three-quarters were not previously recorded in the county-held Historic Environment Record databases or the National Record for the Historic Environment. Of the 2,298 sites identified and mapped, 80% were seen as earthworks – a very high proportion compared to the rest of the South Downs and elsewhere.
The Secrets of the High Woods project is using the NMP project data to help target fieldwork and research by project volunteers.
If you'd like to find out more about the results of the NMP aspects of the project read the report here.
The images used on this page are copyright Historic England unless specified otherwise. For further details of any photographs or other images and for copies of these, or the plans and reports related to the project please contact the Historic England Archive.
Edward Carpenter is an Investigator with Historic England. He joined the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England in 1998. Since 2002 Edward has been involved in a number of multi-period aerial surveys across England; he has a particular interest in the various ways that these landscapes or the individual monuments within them are perceived.
Contact Edward Carpenter
Also of interest...
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Historic England experts use airborne remote sensing methods to identify, record and monitor the condition of heritage assets
Lidar is capable of measuring the ground surface with a very high degree of accuracy enabling the recognition and recording of hard to detect features
The variety and extent of the archaeological remains of the South Downs represent one of the richest cultural landscapes in England.
The aerial survey of the south east coast formed the NMP mapping element of a rapid coastal zone assessment survey
This report covers the NMP component of the HLF supported South Downs National Park Authority project "Secrets of the High Woods"