Lidar survey aids archaeology in the New Forest National Park

Published Thursday 27 May 2010

Important archaeological discoveries such as prehistoric burial mounds and a World War II practice bombing range have been made in the New Forest National Park by a lidar pilot survey.

Archaeologists usually rely on lengthy and labour-intensive field surveys to uncover such features, but airborne lidar (light detection and ranging) helps to speed up the process.  It uses a pulsed laser beam that is scanned from side to side as the aircraft flies over the survey area, measuring up to 100,000 points per second to build a detailed digital model of the landscape and the features upon it.

Using lidar data from a 34 sq.km. section of the New Forest between Burley and Godshill, the National Park Authority has identified a wide variety of  features ranging from Iron Age field systems and Bronze Age burial mounds (known as barrows) to anti-glider obstacles, a practice bombing range and a searchlight position from World War II.

Tom Dommett, who has a Heritage Lottery-funded learning bursary from the Institute of Field Archaeologists to carry out historic landscape research for the National Park Authority, said: ‘One of lidar’s greatest benefits in the Forest is its ability to penetrate all but the densest vegetation like conifer or holly.  It reveals very subtle features which are difficult to see on the ground and are even more difficult to map accurately, particularly in woodland.

‘It is also very helpful with stream restoration projects because it can pick out the former natural stream beds, and it can be used to pinpoint veteran trees.’

Tom explained that because lidar is indiscriminate in what it shows, the data sometimes has to be backed up by targeted field survey, known as ground-truthing.  ‘This is where the involvement of the wider volunteering community has been really helpful and the New Forest History and Archaeology Group have already made an invaluable contribution,’ he said.

Lidar was developed for submarine detection 50 years ago but its value to archaeologists has only been recognised in the last decade.  The pilot survey is still in its early stages but Tom is enthusiastic about lidar’s potential.  

‘At the current rate of survey carried out in the National Park it would take roughly 200 years to obtain a full understanding of the archaeological resource, but with lidar we will hopefully be able to do it in 10 years,’ he said.  

‘There is great potential for lidar to enhance our knowledge and understanding of the Forest’s past and, crucially, our ability to preserve and protect that past for the benefit of future generations.’

ends

Media Contact:
Claire Sherwood, Communications Assistant

New Forest National Park Authority
Tel: 01590 646649
Email: claire.sherwood@newforestnpa.gov.uk

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