THE END of a 40-year search for Dorchester's Roman Fort could be in sight for leading archaeologist Bill Putnam.

He is pinning his hopes on builders exposing a road that tracked across the area that became the Roman town of Durnovaria.

Part of the road has already been found during excavations in the town centre.

But the fort itself has eluded the retired Bournemouth University archaeology lecturer.

Mr Putnam said: "I've been looking for the Roman fort ever since I first came to Dorset in 1967. It's strongly suspected to have existed although no direct trace has ever been found.

"I am fairly sure that the road will cross the long narrow site off Edward Road that is going to be developed for housing.

"It's even possible that the eastern rampart of the fort itself might be under that strip of land. If the road crosses that land then it would confirm the fort nearby."

Mr Putnam said he believed the fort probably lies under the Victoria Park housing development. Or it might have been in the Fairfield area, closer to the town's Maumbury Rings amphitheatre.

He said evidence for that location could have disappeared in the 1870s when the Fairfield was laid out.

He added: "I think it's probably under houses in Victoria Park. It may be possible to find traces there but it's a tedious business trying to find a fort by digging in gardens. And people don't like it unless they happen to be archaeology nuts."

Mr Putnam has been involved in digs throughout Dorchester and pinned down the line of the road to the fort where it crossed under what became Charles Street car park, then being investigated for development. That scheme came to nothing though a new scheme is being planned.

He said the road predated the Roman town by about 30 years and was created in the early days of the Roman conquest, possibly as early as AD 44 or 45.

A cross-section of the road in the 1986 dig showed wheel ruts in the surface.

Mr Putnam said: "It's as if a Second Augustan wagon had just passed by."

The town of Durnovaria that became modern-day Dorchester started to emerge about a generation later in the late AD70s, when the impact of the violence of the occupation on the native Durotriges tribe began to fade.

Mr Putnam said he had invited the Channel 4 Time Team to come and help find the fort but they declined because they were not sure enough of getting a positive result.

The Edward Road development is due to start soon after full planning consent for 79 homes was passed in December.