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Roman highway uncovered between Antwerp and West Flanders

Illustration photo shows construction workers on site at the N9 state road in West Flanders. The Roman road was uncovered during excavation work beside the route.  (BELGA PHOTO JASPER JACOBS)
09:08 17/03/2021

Archaeological excavations in Adegem near Maldegem, West Flanders, have uncovered traces of a Roman road linking Antwerp to an important Roman camp. The existence of the road was known, but now for the first time there is archaeological evidence.

The Roman road between Antwerp and the West Flemish municipality of Oudenburg has been discovered during archaeological excavations carried out as part of the construction of a supermarket. The archaeologists started last week and soon found traces of the ancient highway. "The site is right next to the N9 route and we expected to find something here,” said archaeologist Johan Hoorne. “The fact that it really is there is very cool."

"It was one of the most important routes in the wider region," Hoorne continued. "It was a dirt road to Antwerp that ran over the sandy ridge of Oudenburg." In Adegem, two important Roman roads cross. There was the north-south connection that runs from Kerkhove, just over the provincial border in West Flanders, to Aardenburg in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen. And there was also the road between Oudenburg and Antwerp that has now been uncovered. "The Roman roads in the sandy region are not well known because they were not laid out in stone. But that doesn't mean they weren't important," added Hoorne.

The road was found during the mandatory archaeological research that precedes the construction of a new supermarket on the site. This also means that the discovery will disappear underground again. "What we are doing now is documenting," Hoorne said. "We are taking pictures, drawing up a ground plan, taking samples, also excavating the entire route on the site and pulling out all the finds so that we know everything". Once that is done, the work of the archaeologists is finished and the building plans can continue.

"The construction of this new supermarket is the priority,” he continued. “That is also why we are excavating there now, to prevent the road from disappearing undocumented. Being able to discover such a stretch of road is very interesting as it helps us to better understand the Roman economy and the landscape during that period."

In the end, the public will only be able to view the photos, not the road itself. "That road goes a long way, so it would be a challenge to have to expose it completely,” said Hoorne. “The building of our office is also on it because we are located in Adegem."

Written by Nick Amies