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The Guardian

Roman chariotway outflanked modern road

Martin Wainwright
Saturday October 5, 2002


The apparent rule that roads can only get bigger and bigger has been broken by archaeologists, who have unearthed a Roman "motorway" wider than the A road which runs along the same route today. 
Buried beneath gardens in North Yorkshire, the newly excavated stretch of gravel and limestone cobbles outdoes the traffic-packed A64 by the width of several chariot wheels. Stretching more than 25ft from kerb to kerb, the first century AD route linked York to a 1,000-strong garrison in Malton and coastal forts at Scarborough and Ravenscar. 

"They needed quick access for troops with room to get past anything else using the road," said Mark Stephens, of the Yorkshire archaeological consultancy MAP, which organised the rescue dig in advance of local road improvements. Unlike much of the A64, where overtaking is a finely calculated operation, the generous width gave room for military chariots to swoop past carts and haywains. 

Finds from the side of the road, thrown away by passing Roman drivers, suggest that the tendency of better roads to attract more traffic has a long history. Mr Stephens said: "The road was originally built, like most Roman roads, to get the army around quickly, but it very soon became more important for economic reasons, carrying goods and trade." 

Like its successor, whose roadworks are part of the holiday experience for millions of visitors to York and Scarborough, the Roman route also appears to have spent much of its time covered with the equivalent of repair cones. Mr Stephens said: "We've worked our way through four successive re-layings of the surface, presumably caused by the weight of traffic in Roman times."

 

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