British archaeologists have created a map of a medieval settlement using state-of-the-art scanning techniques without having to dig into the ground.
Relying on magnetometry, ground-penetrating radar and electric resistive tomography, the team from the University of Southampton uncovered the footprint of a town located at the Old Sarum archaeological site near Salisbury, Wiltshire.
"Archaeologists and historians have known for centuries that there was a medieval city at Old Sarum, but until now there has been no proper plan of the site,” said Kristian Strutt, director of archaeological prospection services at the University of Southampton.
"Our survey shows where individual buildings are located and from this we can piece together a detailed picture of the urban plan within the city walls."
Old Sarum is believed to have been one of the oldest settlements in England. Located about ten miles from the iconic Stonehenge monument, the site was inhabited as early as the Iron Age and bears some evidence of the presence of Roman soldiers in the early centuries AD.
In the recent survey, the archaeologists focused on the area around the inner and outer baileys of what was once a fortification. They discovered foundations of multiple large buildings concentrated along the southern edge of the outer defensive wall, which probably used to serve military purposes.
Some of the structures are believed to date back to the 11th century, about the time when the Salisbury (New Sarum) cathedral was built.
The researchers also found a large open area behind the big buildings, residential areas in the south-east and south-west quadrants of the outer bailey and evidence of deposits indicating industrial features, such as kilns or furnaces as well as signs of quarrying after the 1300s.
"Our research so far has shown how the entire outer bailey of the monument was heavily built up in the Middle Ages, representing a substantial urban centre,” Strutt said. “Results have given us compelling evidence as to the nature of some of the structures,” he said, adding that additional non-intrusive work will have to be carried out to further expand the knowledge about the site."
The medieval city is believed to had been inhabited for at least three centuries but was eventually abandoned as the importance of the neighbouring Salisbury grew.
"The use of modern, non-invasive surveying is a great start to further research at Old Sarum,” said Heather Sebire, property curator at English Heritage, which is managing the site.
"From this work we can surmise much about the site's past and, while we can't conclusively date the findings, it adds a new layer to Old Sarum's story.”
The team hopes to perform the next phase of non-invasive surveying in Easter 2015.
The research was conducted as part of the Old Sarum and Stratford-Sub-Castle Archaeological Survey Project, directed by Kristian Strutt and fellow Southampton archaeologists Timothy Sly and Dominic Barker.
Similar technology was recently deployed by archaeologists and scientists from Birmingham University and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Vienna to survey the landscape around Stonehenge. The results from there revealed that Stonehenge did not sit alone within its Neolithic landscape.