A PLANE equipped with a laser is helping to uncover secrets under South Downs woods.

The aircraft with cutting edge technology will search for archaeology hidden beneath the South Downs National Park’s ancient woodland between March 10-15.

While the South Downs is famous for Iron and Bronze Age monuments such as Winchester Hill, a large part of the central areas of the park lies under woods, meaning that almost nothing is known about their ancient history.

The Piper Chieftain survey aircraft will map the ground underneath 30,000 ha of woodland between the river Arun and the A3.

The LiDAR survey is the start of a three-year Heritage Lottery Funded project investigating the hidden archaeology.

Once the 3D map has been created local archaeologists and community groups will be recruited from Autumn 2014 to investigate these sites further. The project will provide lots of new information, linking today’s communities to the people have lived in and cared for this landscape for the last 6000 years.

Rebecca Bennett, from the park, said: “This is the first time that the area under the trees will be mapped in detail. A LiDAR sensor fitted in the plane scans the ground using a laser and records the reflected light. Because some of the light passes through the forest canopy and reflects from the ground below, we can use these measurements to calculate a high-resolution 3D model of all the ‘lumps and bumps’ beneath the trees that are otherwise obscured and impossible to map.

“It’s a unique opportunity to unlock the secrets underneath these ancient woods. There are a few archive aerial photographs of this area capturing a tantalising glimpse of features revealed by felling during WWII, but there is so much that we don’t know about the history of the people who lived here.

James Kenny, Archaeology Officer at Chichester District Council, said: “We are delighted to be involved in this project. We know there is the potential for fascinating discoveries to be made and it is exciting that we will soon know a lot more about this ancient landscape.”

The project is led by the South Downs National Park Authority, in partnership with Chichester District Council and with the support of West Sussex and Hampshire County Councils.