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Laser archaeology: how volunteers are using Lidar to shed new light on Bronze Age barrows, World War II and a Victorian rubbish tip

Tony Carpenter has been helping to discover new archaeological sites by volunteering for the New Forest National Park Authority’s (NPNPA) heritage mapping and World War II projects. New light has been shed on Bronze Age barrows, Roman pottery and Second World War sites thanks to Lidar - the Light Detection and Ranging technology which fires harmless laser beams from an airplane into the ground to build a 3D map of the surface. Here Tony tells us why volunteering has been so rewarding.

After 38 years in IT, travelling the world and occasionally spending time with my family in Oxford, I achieved a lifelong dream to live by the sea. My part time business now covers Home Finding and individual computer training and although this gets me around this beautiful area I felt I was missing out on the real forest.

So when I saw an advert for volunteers for the New Forest Remembers WWII project I jumped at it, not because of an interest in archaeology but rather an interest in local history.

Tony Carpenter blog lidar volunteer

Tony Carpenter (third from left) on a heritage mapping field survey in the New Forest

That was six months ago and I have not regretted my decision one jot. We generally work in teams of nine plus the three proper archaeologists. My fellow volunteers are very knowledgeable, but then some have been doing it for several years. The archaeologists are very professional and enthusiastic about their role. We descend upon a remote location in the forest and conduct a two day field survey, targeting those features discovered by the Lidar sweep. We are on site from 9.30am to 4pm come hell or high water (very apt !!) all year round, fighting off midges or frostbite depending on the season. You may have spotted us working in gangs of four complete with surveying poles, tablet computers and cameras, picking our way over heather or through copses.

Lidar blog photo

A Lidar image of a snail shaped Iron Age hill fort courtesy of Forest Research, Cambridge University Technical Service and the New Forest National Park Authority

On the surveys I have been on we have made many discoveries, some ancient, some WWII, showing that this area has a rich history that few people appreciate. Like the field full of individual burial mounds, a tribute to ancient undertakers. The anti-glider earthworks by the side of the A35 or the spectacular practice bomb aiming arrow at Hampton Ridge to name but a few. Artefacts are being discovered all the time, for example the last time I was out we had the good fortune to find a Victorian rubbish tip, probably left by the guys who built the railway to Burley. Here we found coloured bottles, curious iron work, but even better than that it appeared that WWII soldiers had also used this as a tip, leaving battery boxes and even something that looked like a tent. A proper investigation of the site is now planned and I can’t wait to hear about the results. Yes, I’ve really enjoyed my voluntary work with the NFNPA’s archaeological unit and I hope to continue to find out more about the history of this fascinating area.

If you’d like to do something different and volunteer for wildlife projects, archaeological surveys and outdoor activities then head to the New Forest Volunteer Fair on Saturday, March 15, from 10.30am to 4pm at Lyndhurst Community Centre. Find out more at

This entry was posted by Communications on Tuesday 18/02/2014


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