Road radar to reveal Roman remains in York

The biggest study ever undertaken into Eboracum – the Roman city buried beneath York – is set to begin this summer, when ground penetrating radar will be used to map as much of underground York as possible in a bid to learn more about the layout of the Roman city.

A vehicle equipped with specialist radar equipment is set to survey 20km of streets around York over the summer – the first time a project on this scale has been undertaken in the UK.  The team behind the scheme are working with City of York Council to access as much of the city centre road network as possible, including some pedestrianised streets, during the survey, with minimal disruption to the public.  Alongside the road surveys, a different radar system will scan the green spaces in the city centre, particularly around the Yorkshire Museum and York Minster.

The initiative is a joint project between Universities of Cambridge and Reading , York Archaeology and the York Museums Trust funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The 30 month long project aims to collate everything archaeologists and historians know about the whole of Roman York into a single database which will then be made freely available to the public. Alongside the research there will be a series of public engagement projects including volunteer-run research projects, an art initiative and a project for schools around the country linking research findings to geography, physics, geology and archaeology.

The radar mapping exercise will start in the summer, with dry weather being crucial to the success of the scanning, as the radar can only penetrate down to the water table, which is notoriously high for much of the year in York.

“This is a key initiative where we hope to learn much more about the layout of the Roman city without having to dig a single trench,” comments the project leader Martin Millett, Laurence Professor of Classical Archaeology at University of Cambridge and Trustee of York Archaeological Trust.  Co-investigator Dr John Creighton of the University of Reading notes “Over many years, various investigations have opened small windows into different parts of the Roman city, but we hope that this scanning will reveal far more about the city including details where the roads and significant buildings in the city were located, particularly around Micklegate.”

The wider research will bring together not only the results of archaeological excavations over the last 50 years, but also other less formal sources of information, including historic press reports of Roman finds, notebooks and published reports from the 18th century onwards.  It is hoped that volunteers from across the community will be involved.

“This exciting new project will provide a new basis for understanding of Roman York and will enhance the ways in which the City can assess the impact of planning and future development on this valuable but hidden heritage,” comments Cllr Darryl Smalley, Executive Member for Culture, Leisure and Communities at City of York Council.

The project will address the following research questions:

  • Is there evidence for alterations to the legionary fortress through the late Antique period?
  • What was the character of settlement surrounding the legionary fortress (conventionally called the canabae), both physically and in terms of material culture, and how did this change through time?
  • Is there evidence for enhancement associated with the periods of imperial residence (AD 208–11 and AD 305-06), or following York’s promotion to colonial status in the early 3rd century?
  • Is there evidence for changes in the organization and use of land in the immediate environs of York through the Roman period?
  • How does the extent and character of occupation change in the 4th–5th centuries?