A high-tech approach which identified over 3,000 historical sites in the New Forest has been judged the UK’s number one archaeological innovation of the last half century.
Laser mapping technique ‘Lidar’ has been named as Current Archaeology magazine’s Archaeological Innovation of the Last 50 Years, with the New Forest National Park Authority’s heritage mapping project chosen as the best example.
The New Forest was the first National Park in the country to have its entire landscape and surrounding communities surveyed by Lidar – an area equivalent to 125,000 football pitches.
The National Park team’s use of Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging technology) involved beaming harmless lasers down from light aircraft to form a 3D map of the landscape. Unlike conventional aerial photography, this innovative approach allows experts to see below trees and shrubs to identify previously unrecorded features.
Since 2010, archaeologists in the New Forest have recorded and protected thousands of sites, including significant finds such as prehistoric field systems, an Iron Age hill fort and World War II bomb test sites.
Lawrence Shaw, Heritage Mapping and Data Officer for the New Forest National Park Authority, said: ‘It was a great honour to be selected as the exemplary example of how Lidar is used within archaeology. It’s a significant achievement as this was a very strong category that included amazing technological advances such as geophysical survey and carbon dating.
‘Lidar has helped to revolutionise the way we look at how humans have shaped the British landscape and we are very fortunate within the New Forest to have had a series of projects that have allowed us to rediscover our lost heritage. In the last year the release of open Lidar data by the Environment Agency has unlocked even more potential in the technology and I’m sure we will be seeing more Lidar-inspired discoveries in the coming years.’
Frank Green, New Forest National Park Authority Senior Archaeologist, said: ‘We initially received a bursary placement from the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists in 2009, allowing us to begin work on the Lidar project.
‘Our work with Lidar supports a number of other projects around the Forest, including the Heritage Lottery Funded Our Past, Our Future landscape partnership scheme. It has also been invaluable in assisting research into the Forest’s inclosures and land surveys currently being undertaken by the National Trust and Hampshire County Council.’
The project is funded by the New Forest Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) Scheme, a 10-year agreement with Natural England worth £19m. The scheme is held by the Verderers of the New Forest and managed by them in partnership with the Forestry Commission and the New Forest National Park Authority.
Lidar surveying of the New Forest has also been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund through the New Forest Remembers World War Two project.
To find out more about Lidar and the New Forest heritage mapping project visit www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/heritagemapping.
Significant Lidar discoveries
- World War I training trenches near Lyndhurst
- Bronze Age burial mounds near Burley
- Iron Age fortified enclosure near Brockenhurst
- Major World War II bombing target and bomb craters at Ashley Walk
Frank Green, James Brown, Gareth Owen, Steve Fisher and Lawrence Shaw from New Forest National Park Authority’s archaeology team.