How did the Romans build roads across wetlands? The excavation of a Roman road in a wetland is not unique, but the timber-and-turf road at Scaftworth has not so far produced any parallels.
The Roman road at Scaftworth (on the border of the counties of Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire) was discovered in 1983
during the straightening of a stretch of the River Idle in order to protect a viaduct of the
East Coast Mainline railway. Small-scale excavations were undertaken in 1983 and
1991 by Sheffield University. In 1995, a 4 m wide trench was excavated across the full width of the road, which provided many new insights in its construction. This work was carried out as part of the Humber Wetlands Survey, a programme of survey and research into the archaeology and envi-
ronmental history of the wetlands around the River Humber that has been commissioned and funded by English Heritage. The excavation was undertaken to provide information concerning the effects of artificial drainage and dewatering on the archaeological resource in the region. Unfortunately, this is a common and widespread threat to much of the archaeology in the wetlands in the Humber basin, including the Roman road at Scaftworth.
The timber-and-turf road which crossed the River Idle at this point was part of the main road from Lincoln to York avoiding the River Humber, and must have been one of the most important roads in Roman Britain. The road diverted from Ermine Street, 5 km to the north of Lincoln, crossed the River
Trent at Littleborough, travelled westwards to Scaftworth where is crossed the River Idle,
and turned northwards at Bawtry towards Doncaster and on to York. At Scaftworth, the flood plain of the Idle narrows where it is bounded by Sherwood Sandstone and Mercia Mudstone hills, providing an prominent place to carry a road across the river flood-
plain, which is about 500 m wide here.
The timber-and-turf road was built using material exclusively from alder, willow and/ or poplar trees. All three species were common on the Idle floodplain in the Roman period - indeed two in situ alder stools were found during the excavation. The largest tree trunks were used to form three parallel 'rails', over which smaller stems were laid at right angles. All trees had been felled with axes, but remained further unmodified. Brushwood, from the same trees, was then used to pack the uneven surface. A layer of turves from the sandy edge of the floodplain was then placed on top. This turf road was
The Romans needed to build a road in a hurry: a reconstruction by Les Turner of how they built a timber and turf road over the floodplain Idle. of the River
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