An ‘enormous’ Roman settlement has been unearthed in the Channel Islands.
The 3.7 acre settlement – the largest ever discovered in the Channel Islands and nearby areas of France – was preserved by drifts of sand for thousands of years.
Excavations on Longis Common in Alderney have revealed walls, a stone courtyard, pottery and coins.
Experts say the sand could have buried the island’s first main settlement after its occupants moved to where the modern town is now located.
The Roman settlement is built on an Iron Age burial site that dates back to the second century BC.
The Romans didn’t conquer Gaul – modern day France – until around 56 BC, but evidence discovered by the archaeologists suggests they were conducting trade on the nearby Channel Islands almost a century earlier.
University of Oxford archaeologist Dr Philip De Jersey said Iron Age burial sites in the area are far richer than other burials in the Channel Islands.
‘It suggests that at least some of the population had some wealth and social status – these were not all impoverished peasants living on the very edge of the Roman Empire,’ he said.
Dr Jason Monaghan, an archaeologist and Museums Director for the island of Guernsey, told MailOnline the team had hoped to study an Iron Age burial site.
Instead, the team found the subterranean village by accident after starting their excavation.
According to Dr Monaghan, the site dates back to the second century BC, around a century before the Romans successfully colonised France.
Evidence suggests there was Roman trade activity on the Channel Islands from 150 BC, before they finally settled on the island 100 years later after the empire had conquered of Gaul, which is modern day France.
Dr Monaghan said one of the unique things about the site was the way it was preserved.
‘Most Roman towns, when they fell into ruins, the locals nicked all the stones to build their farms and cathedrals and things,’ he said.
‘What has happened at Longis is the buildings have gone out of use, the sand has blown in and buried them under three, four feet of sand – everyone would have forgotten about them.’
In 2011, a building near the new settlement, known as the Nunnery, was found to be of Roman origin, dating to the 4th Century AD.
The walls of the tower were nine feet (2.8 metres) thick and the tower was about 58 sq feet (18 square metres).
Dr Monaghan said at the time: ‘It probably guarded the entrance to Longis Bay, Alderney’s only natural harbour, and I think they would probably have based a couple of Roman warships there.
‘It’s only eight miles (12.8 km) to the French coast, you can see right the way across from there, and if you want to control that waterway and stop pirates or anybody else going past, that’s the ideal place to do it.
‘The fort protects the beach because we know there was a settlement as well, probably a little Roman village or little town underneath the sand of Longis.’
Further research found that it is one of the best preserved small Roman forts in Britain.
Archaeologists say the new settlement may have been connected to the fort at some point in its history.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Joe Pinkstone