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December 28, 2021

How GPR Helps Us Understand History

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Various industries are continuing to develop their use of GPR utility surveys for a host of different purposes. Archaeology, in particular, benefits from this new technology because it means that new finds can be made underneath the ground’s surface without necessarily having to disturb the surrounding environment. Recently, the services of GPR surveyors have been carried out to make a number of significant and interesting discoveries.

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    These include the location of what looks like a living space used by Neanderthals in Northamptonshire, and new Roman remains in West Sussex, which has intrigued researchers everywhere.

    Archaeologists who have been searching for a lost medieval village on the estate where Princess Diana spent her childhood appear to have stumbled upon evidence of a Neanderthal community. The estate in question is Althorp Park in Northamptonshire.

    Pieces of carved seashells found were originally thought to date back to the Middle Ages, but with the use of carbon dating, it’s been revealed that they are, in fact, more than 40,000 years old.

    The dig was commissioned by Charles Spencer, brother of the late princess. He hoped that it would uncover evidence of the site of Olletorp, a village abandoned by its inhabitants in the 14th century when the Black Death was rampant in the area.

    Olletorp was believed to lie around 1,000 yards to the west of Althorp, a Grade I listed building erected in 1688. The estate has been the seat of the Spencer family since 1508, and Althorp was built to replace a previous dwelling.

    In January 2021, experts from the Institute of Digital Archeology dug a number of test trenches and pits and implemented a GPR utility survey across a 1.5-acre area. The researchers did not, as they’d planned, find Olletorp, though. What they discovered instead was a midden, another term for an ancient rubbish tip, which contained shells, segments of worked antler, and flint.

    The discovery led the researchers to believe that this was at one time a site where tools were made. Using carbon dating techniques, they have drawn the conclusion that it could be one of the earliest settlements discovered in the UK. The tools appear to date back to the Palaeolithic period when Neanderthals were living in Britain.

    Director of the IDA, Roger Michel, stated that Institute members don’t think the shells could be remnants of a prehistoric meal because, at that time, Althorp was even further from the sea than it is today. Instead, the theory is that these fragments would have been used for decoration or as spurs of mother of pearl jewellery.

    Neanderthals are close ancestors of today’s people, but they died out in as yet unknown circumstances around 40,000 years ago. The discovery of the skull of a young female was found in Swanscombe, Kent, in 1935, which indicated to archaeologists that the race was in Britain around 400,000 years ago.

    Evidence of modern humans dates back to around 50,000 years ago, so there’s reason to believe that this discovery at Althorp could indicate the location is the nexus between the ancient and the modern world as we know it.

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    Michel said that his team are still hopeful that they will find Olletorp. Geophysical surveys carried out across the site show that there are many areas of interest that need further exploration.

    Discovering the history of Althorp could directly influence the entire story of the settlement of Britain from the earliest period of human habitation to the present.

    Earl Spencer, custodian of the Althorp estate, is also a professional historian. He has authored several books, including the best-selling White Ship, which tells the story of the sinking 900 years ago of a royal ship carrying Henry I’s only heir across the Channel from France to England.

    Meanwhile, in Chichester, archaeologist James Kenny – working in partnership with the Chichester and District Archaeology Society – hopes to unearth more secrets of the district’s Roman and Medieval past. The excavation is being carried out at Priory Park.

    Excavations have already taken place in 2017 and 2018. These focused on the smallest building discovered by using ground-penetrating radar surveys. The building was determined to be part of a Roman bathhouse with a series of warm and hot rooms powered by an underfloor heating system. All the remains were very well-preserved.

    Archaeologists believe that the building was part of a luxurious Roman townhouse owned by a very wealthy family.

    Further excavation in 2019 was carried out between the bathhouse and a building to its south. A new trench is now to be dug out between the two buildings in the hopes of finding evidence that there was a connection between the two.

    The archaeologists are looking for the furnace that powered the bathhouse, as well as investigating how the site was used in medieval times.

    Archaeologists have determined that the bathhouse was probably constructed around the start of the 2nd century AD and was used until the 4th century. It was then decommissioned, and the building materials were used elsewhere.

    Deputy leader of Chichester District Council and cabinet member for planning Susan Taylor said that the excavations have been fascinating and have revealed a lot of previously unknown information and history about the city.

    The archaeological digs and discoveries have been very popular with the community because it isn’t often that a live archaeological dig is carried out in people’s own neighbourhoods. Unfortunately, the public wasn’t allowed on site last year due to the pandemic.

    However, Taylor is now encouraging people to visit the site as work progresses to find out more about archaeology. There will be a Public Day where experts will talk about their finds and why they are significant. And there’s a wealth of information about Chichester’s Roman past elsewhere, including the Novium Museum in Tower Street.

    Ground-penetrating radars use state of the art technology to survey areas beneath the ground’s surface without the need for any digging. As well as archaeology, the methodology is used widely in construction and the military, among others.

    If you think your business could benefit from using GPR, it pays to find a reliable and experienced partner to maximise the utility of the technology. The data you collect can mean all the difference between the success and the failure of a project.

    At KB GPR Surveys, our professional GPR surveyors are all experts in their field with years of experience under their belt. We have invested in the latest technology and are highly trained and experienced in its use and the interpretation of the results, all to provide you with solid data to base your decisions on.

    Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any queries. We’re always delighted to discuss new projects. For more information on our services, visit our homepage at

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