Gloucestershire’s history uncovered during National Highways improvements to be shown on BBC documentary


02 January 2024

Press Release

Gloucestershire’s history uncovered during National Highways improvements to be shown on BBC documentary

An archaeological dig, which has captivated the people of Gloucestershire, will be featured in the new series of Digging for Britain on BBC Two on Thursday 4 January.

Last summer’s excavation of an Iron Age site known as a ‘banjo enclosure’ near the A417, between the Air Ballon Roundabout and Brockworth, was part of National Highways’ £460m A417 Missing Link scheme.

Archaeologists from Oxford Cotswold Archaeology completed the excavation of the site over a two-month period, with the site likely to have been the focus of special activity such as feasting.

Dating back almost 2,200 years, Gloucestershire’s population would have been rapidly expanding, with humans starting to make tools and weapons from iron and constructing large hilltop fortifications.

A wide range of artefacts were found, including pottery and animal bones, along with a human ‘crouched’ burial.

National Highways Programme Director for the A417 Missing Link, Steve Foxley, said: “While this landscape-led scheme is very much about building a road that is fit for the future, it’s important not to forget the past and it’s been an absolute pleasure to piece together Gloucestershire’s history as part of this important upgrade for the county.

“We’re just as captivated as local residents and we’ve been delighted to share some of our recent findings with local parish councils and schools. We’re equally excited that this significant excavation is now being shared with a wider audience through BBC Two’s Digging for Britain.

“Watch this space, as we’re also planning some community open days in the spring, where people will be able to meet the team and hear all about our archaeological finds.

Jim Keyte, National Highways’ Archaeology Project Manager for the A417, added: “It’s a great pleasure to be able to share our findings with the viewers of Digging for Britain.

“As a landscape-led project within the Cotswolds National Landscape, being able to explore the traces left by our ancestors provides a unique opportunity to contribute to the story of the Cotswolds and leave a lasting legacy of knowledge for the local community.”

The series, which is now available on iPlayer, is hosted by Professor Alice Roberts. She visited the A417 Missing Link scheme to meet the team and go behind the scenes to find out more.

The episode will be broadcast at 8pm on Thursday.

As well as Oxford Cotswold Archaeology, National Highways also worked closely with Gloucestershire County Council and Historic England to carry out the dig, along with the contractors for the A417 Missing Link scheme, Kier.

Alex Thomson, Project Manager for Oxford Cotswold Archaeology, added: “It has been a privilege to be part of the A417 project, and we have been treated to some outstanding archaeology.

“It is a rare opportunity to be able to investigate archaeological sites on this scale and across such a wide landscape, and the results of our work will contribute significantly to our understanding of the past in the local area and in the wider Cotswolds.”

The landscape-led Missing Link scheme, which sits within the Cotswolds National Landscape (formally known as the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), will help to eradicate the notorious bottleneck, unlock Gloucestershire’s potential for growth, support regional plans for more homes and jobs, and improve life for local communities.

National Highways’ A417 Missing Link scheme includes:  

  • 3.4 miles of new dual carriageway connecting the existing A417 Brockworth bypass with the existing A417 dual carriageway south of Cowley; 
  • the section to the west of the existing Air Balloon roundabout would follow the existing A417 corridor. However, the section to the south and east of the Air Balloon roundabout would be offline, away from the existing road corridor;  
  • a new junction at Shab Hill, providing a link from the A417 to the A436 towards Oxford and into Birdlip;
  • a new junction near Cowley, replacing the existing Cowley roundabout;  
  • the existing A417 between the Air Balloon roundabout and the Cowley roundabout would be repurposed, converting some lengths of this existing road into a route for walkers, cyclists and horse riders, while retaining other sections to maintain local access for residents.

Find out more about the A417 Missing Link, including the latest scheme updates, here

Notes to Editors

National Highways is the wholly government-owned company responsible for modernising, maintaining and operating England’s motorways and major A roads.

Real-time traffic information for England’s motorways and major A roads is available via the Traffic England website, local and national radio travel bulletins, electronic road signs and mobile apps. Local Twitter services are also available.

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