| 1 November 2003
The longest archaeological dig in Britain
The longest, narrowest and potentially richest archaeological dig in Britain is to go on worldwide show as an unexpected bonus of the new high-speed Channel tunnel rail link. Hundreds of archaeologists, working over a period of 15 years, have salvaged vast stores of finds from the path of the 185mph trains, as well as recording scores of sites which will remain safe but buried beneath the tracks. "One long string of pearls seems to be everyone's favourite description," said Helen Glass, archaeology manager for Rail Link Engineering, who at one stage juggled 12 separate excavations on a short stretch of the line through Kent.
On the first, 29-mile section of the line from the tunnel entrance to Gravesend, which opened to traffic in September, there were an average of almost two important digs a mile. The trove of data is now to go on the Internet in an accessible form pioneered by York University. Staff at the campus's Archaeological Data Service have started loading pages of text, maps and thousands of photographs in an unprecedented project which will only be completed next autumn. The £5.2bn link project has unearthed, among many other finds, an exceptionally rare Neolithic longhouse.
The finds almost all come from the new line's slender transect across Kent, a 70-metre-wide slice through some of the oldest areas of settlement in Britain. The oldest discoveries at a previously unknown Mesolithic flint "factory" date back more than 8,000 years, while other material is as recent as a camouflaged ammunition dump from the second world war.
Archaeologists explored more widely at a limited number of sites, including Beechbrook Wood, Ashford, where 37 hectares (92 acres) of land disappeared under a temporary railhead. Details of what the experts have classified as "enigmatic middle-Iron Age enclosures" were duly mapped and described for the database, along with two 1940s pillboxes at Tutt Hill, near Maidstone.
Finds and data from the second section of the Channel link, from Gravesend to King's Cross/St Pancras, are expected to provide an equally extraordinary hoard.
Source: The Guardian (1 November 2003)
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