Roman 'industrial estate' discovered near Peterborough

Archaeologists believe they have uncovered the Roman equivalent of an industrial estate in woods near Peterborough.

Evidence of ironworks including a furnace, tools, nails and a network of buildings has been discovered in Bedford Purlieus Wood.

Bathing facilities and underfloor heating were also found on the site.

The Forestry Commission, which owns the land, believes it is one of the largest archaeological sites in England.

The ancient woodland is part of Rockingham Forest, which stretches through Northamptonshire to the border with Cambridgeshire.

In the early 19th Century the antiquarian Edmund Tyrell Artis came across the remains of a Roman site in Bedford Purlieus Wood.

He claimed to have found Roman statues, buildings and burial sites, surrounded by evidence of ironworking. However, he only ever published drawings and a map, and over time the site was lost.

'Exceptional condition'

In 2008, archaeologists from Peterborough and Northamptonshire uncovered the remains of a Roman villa in the woods.

Further excavations took place in late 2009 with the help of Channel 4's Time Team, using GPS sensors to ensure the ancient woodland was not disturbed.

An intensive three-day dig uncovered the extent of Roman occupation and mining in the woodland.

The findings are being revealed now to coincide with the release of Time Team's 2011 television series.

Archaeologists believe that the largest building discovered on the site belonged to the foreman of the ironworks, while the more modest ones were used by workmen.

No evidence or remains were found to suggest there were any women or children living in the area, leading them to believe that the site was purely industrial.

Forestry Commission archaeologist Tim Yarnell said that leaves and foliage falling on the ground had prevented soil erosion, protecting the site from the elements.

"The remains are in exceptionally good condition and a great deal of detail can be seen, including colour and patterns on plaster - even after 1,900 years," he said.

The site will be opened to the public in May.

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