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Tunnel vision widens the treasure hunt

Ancient artefacts unearthed along the Channel Tunnel Rail Link are being made accessible to learners of all ages via a university online archive. Janet Murray reports

A 46-kilometre stretch of the Kent countryside has yielded one of the most valuable and fruitful sources of archaeological excavation in recent times, thanks to the new high-speed Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL).

These rich pickings, discovered on the first section of the link towards Gravesend, include 8,000-year-old flints belonging to Mesolithic hunters, a Roman villa complex, a Romano-British cemetery and two Anglo-Saxon cemeteries. More modern finds have included a model farm from Victorian times, along with camouflaged ammunition dumps and pillboxes from the Second World War.

Now these historic treasures are to be displayed on the internet in an accessible form by York university. The university's Archaeological Data Service (ADS) will enable researchers to study this enormous archaeological project's findings free from anywhere in the world.

Until now, results of similar studies have only been available in book form, with the obvious limitations imposed by print runs, price and availability.

This first phase of the CTRL has produced 122 new research archives, including 31 full-scale excavations and 14 standing building surveys.

Jay Carver, an archaeologist on the project, claims the archive has "a real value as a teaching tool or resource. We have already had positive feedback from A-level students and those studying archaeology at university. This is exciting because the finished archive will provide case-study materials for students."

Dr William Kilbride, assistant director at ADS, echoes his sentiments, saying: "Many schools want to teach archaeology and many pupils want to study it, but they are often poorly resourced and teachers don't feel confident. This resource could change that."

Andy Kirk, of the JISC regional support centre for further education, which has offices in Canterbury and Reading, has been impressed by what is on offer online.

"The Channel Tunnel Rail Link archive is an excellent example of an online resource that opens up access to material that is not always readily available, where field trips may not be practical or learners may have other commitments.

"This could be of particular use to the adult community learning sector by bringing together a range of readily accessible archaeological data and resources."

And the archive may yet contain even more material - the pound;5.2 billion CTRL project is expected to unearth another extraordinary hoard when work on the second section of the link - from Gravesend to Kings CrossSt Pancras - is undertaken.

ADS archive:

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