What did the Romans ever do for us (if they didn't build our roads)?

Dig unearths highway built before Emperor Claudius invaded

Archaeologists have found Britain's oldest properly engineered road, and the discovery could change the way we look at a key aspect of British history. Now, many of the country's key A roads – long thought to be Roman in origin – could now turn out to be substantially more British than scholars had thought.

The discoveries, in Shropshire, suggest that ancient Britons were building finely engineered, well-cambered and skilfully metalled roads before the Emperor Claudius's conquering legions ever set foot in Britain in the middle of the 1st century BC.

"The traditional view has often been that Iron Age Britons were unsophisticated people who needed to be civilised by the Romans," said Tim Malim, an archaeologist from the UK environmental planning consultancy, SLR, who co-directed the Shropshire excavation. "It's an attitude that largely has its roots in the late 19th century when Britain saw itself very much as the new Rome, bringing civilisation to the rest of the world." The Shropshire road was built, the archaeologists believe, up to 100 years before the Romans conquered Britain. The archaeologists suspect that the road may have been 40 miles long.

So far, they have found two sections, totalling 400m, but their alignment suggests that the road connected two key political centres of the Iron Age tribal kingdom of the Cornovii, the Cornovian "capital", the Wrekin hill-fort near modern Telford, and Old Oswestry hill-fort, near modern Oswestry.

The discovery of the road, revealed in the BBC History Magazine, is for the first time demonstrating the sophistication of British Iron Age cross-country road construction.

First a brushwood foundation (made of elder) was laid down. Then a layer of silt was placed on top of the brushwood, and finally a layer of cobbles was set into the silt to provide a good surface. A kerb system, kept in place by timber uprights, was even constructed to prevent the Iron Age highway slumping. The road was regularly maintained, and resurfaced at least twice during its life.

The excavations, funded by the UK's largest building materials company, Tarmac, have also provided remarkable information about the wheeled traffic using the Iron Age highway.

Prior to the final phase of use, there is no evidence for heavy wheeled vehicles. But in the very late Iron Age, there seems to have been a dramatic increase in heavy traffic, with evidence of the deep ruts caused by large wheeled vehicles, almost certainly carts carrying agricultural produce. The rut evidence suggests that the vehicles had axle widths of 1.9m and wheels which were 12 to 17cm wide.

The findings are likely to prompt archaeologists in other parts of Britain to re-examine some more straight-as-a-die typically Roman-looking roads to see whether they too were originally British native Iron Age ones.

Suggested Topics
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits