Remains of largest telescope in the world found in Cambridge

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An archaeological dig in Cambridge has uncovered surprising ancient remains and the foundations of the world’s largest telescope of the late Victorian era.

Archaeologists from the University of Cambridge Archaeological Unit, recently working at the site of the new Kavli Institute for Cosmology in the grounds of the University’s observatory in west Cambridge, have unearthed an extraordinary series of deposits.

The Observatory hill-top has long been known as both a location of early settlement and, in Medieval times, as Gritrow, a hamlet specialising in gravel quarrying. Accordingly, the site was peppered with oblong pits characteristic of small-scale quarrying, themselves dated to the 16-18th centuries.

However, within their fills were also found significant quantities of Iron Age and Early Roman pottery, indicating that the early settlement had been destroyed and redeposited by the quarrying.

Moreover, appearing like some sort of giant bull’s-eye, cut down through the quarries was the 13m diameter, brick-and-concrete ring foundation (with an enormous plinth in its centre) of the Newell Telescope.

Erected on the site in 1891, and having a 25” lens, in its day this was the largest telescope in the world. It stood there until 1955 when its mechanism was moved to Athens.

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