Those of us who drive or live near major roads will be well aware of the blight of new road construction: the delays, the dirt, the detours and general inconvenience. And usually, all to shave just a few minutes at best off journey times in the area!

But one (minor) advantage of such schemes is the information about our past that can be gained by trashing the countryside.

Two new road schemes currently under construction, in Cornwall and Worcestershire, have brought forth a host of new discoveries which will keep the archaeologists busy for some time.

A38

Firstly in Worcestershire, a new roundabout is under construction on the A38 at Upton on Severn. Aerial photographs, which showed crop marks indicating the presence of a large ditch defining a rectangular enclosure of unknown date, were included in the initial site survey. Further geophysics surveys revealed the extent of the enclosure and suggested further possible archaeological features. Trial trenching followed and revealed a substantial ditch surrounding the enclosure. Pottery finds dated the enclosure to the Middle Iron Age, circa 2,250 years ago.

The ditch defining the enclosure was found to be unusually large, up to 5m wide and 2m deep, with an eastern entranceway. Posts and pits within the enclosure provided evidence of structures and other activity. A waterhole, a smaller enclosure and field boundaries were found outside the enclosure. An infant burial was also discovered in one of the ditches.

So far only a third of the enclosure has been excavated, being the area required for the construction of the roundabout. Initial impressions of the Worcestershire Archaeology Service are that this may not be an entirely typical Iron Age settlement, and may have had a defensive element to it, given its position in the shadow of the Malvern Hills.

A30

Meanwhile in Cornwall, a bottleneck single-lane section of the A30 north of Truro is being upgraded to provide nearly nine miles of new dual carriageway, a move which is not without its objectors, as many of the fields on the new route have been untouched apart from agriculture, in some cases for centuries. Thankfully, the new road will ensure that the barrow cemetery at Four Burrows, dissected by the current road, will be much less busy in future.

As work continues on the new route in the face of the ongoing objections, the finds and discoveries so far have been nothing short of remarkable, spanning from the Mesolithic through to the Second World War, and include:

  • a flint scatter representing a working area which probably dates to the Mesolithic/Neolithic transition period, circa 6,000 years ago
  • beaker and bronze age pots, pits and roundhouses, circa 4,500-3,000 years ago
  • medieval ironworking and activity circa 12th-13th centuries AD
  • a Second World War US ‘sausage camp’, an embarkation camp prior to D-Day, 1943-44
  • an as yet undated but earlier route of what is now the A30, which has been identified so far at four locations along the new road
A complete BA urn discovered near to Chiverton Cross.

Further details of these finds will be discussed in a forthcoming Zoom lecture for Cornwall Archaeology Society members.

* Please note..

In no way should this article be taken as an endorsement of any road-building scheme, in particular the planned tunnel on the A303 at Stonehenge! Whilst ‘chance’ finds such as those shown above are exciting and can teach us much about the past, to deliberately dig an area known to be rich in archaeology (and a World Heritage Site to boot) is nothing short of morally corrupt in our eyes.

Have roadworks in your area uncovered anything unexpected from our past? If so, please let us know in the comments.