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Originally published Saturday, January 6, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Dutch unearth an ancient Roman road

Archaeologists in the Netherlands have uncovered what they believe is part of the military road Roman soldiers patrolled nearly 2,000 years...

The Associated Press

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — Archaeologists in the Netherlands have uncovered what they believe is part of the military road Roman soldiers patrolled nearly 2,000 years ago while guarding against hostile Germanic tribes at the Roman Empire's northern boundary.

Known in Latin as the "limes," the road was in use from roughly A.D. 50 to A.D. 350, before it fell into disrepair and eventually was covered over, said archaeologist Wilfried Hessing, who is leading the excavations in Houten.

The stretch of road discovered in Houten is believed to have connected two forts — Traiectum, which gives its name to the modern city of Utrecht, and Fectio, modern Vechten. Wooden poles were discovered at the site that were used to protect the roadsides from erosion, and experts hoped to use tree-ring-counting techniques to determine the exact date they were cut, Hessing said.

"It was used for trade, but it was first and foremost part of a military strategy to guard the border," he said. With a road, "you can respond more quickly, so you need fewer troops, just like today."

The road was discovered by the Dutch train company Prorail during preparations to add extra rail lines in the area. Hessing and Prorail will complete excavations of a short stretch in the coming weeks, then carry out exploratory digs to determine the road's route farther to the east, the city of Houton said in a statement.

"It's in very good condition," said city spokeswoman Marloes van Kessel.

Excavations of other parts of the limes are also being conducted in other European countries, and the United Nations is considering declaring it a World Heritage site.

Hessing said the road was built of a sloping mound of sand and clay, interspersed with layers of gravel and smashed seashells.

Pottery shards were used as filler material and will help experts in dating the road, Hessing said. The road was flanked by drainage channels, and the wooden poles were used to shore up the foundation.

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