The absence of ploughing, predominance of heathland and lack of building development have allowed archaeological sites to survive and remain visible. More than 570 archaeological sites have been identified, including Bronze Age round barrows, Iron Age enclosures, prehistoric field systems, Roman iron workings, the medieval Pale, medieval and post-medieval pillow mounds for the rearing of rabbits, and remains of late 18th century military kitchen mounds that are among the only surviving ones in the United Kingdom. The London to Lewes Way, one of three Roman roads that connected London with the important Wealden iron industry, crosses Ashdown Forest in a north-south direction. The 'agger' of the road can be seen at Roman Road car park. Please see the page devoted to scheduled monuments.
Archaeological evidence suggests there have been people on Ashdown Forest from the Late Palaeolithic period (750,000 to 10,000 BC). A stone hand axe was found near Gills Lap dating to about 50,000 years BC.
Flint artefacts have been found across the Forest dating from the Mesolithic period (10,000 to 4,500 BC) and the people leaving these signs may have been nomads, moving in search of food or seasonal occupiers taking advantage of warm summer weather to go hunting or permanently settling. Flints do not occur naturally on the Forest. Most flint flakes (produced as waste as tools were being made) or discarded tools are found just below the high ridges where there are long views for watching grazing stock, wild animals or the approach of the enemy provided the area was not heavily wooded.
Hunting techniques improved during the Neolithic period (4,400 BC to 3,300 BC) and led to increased occupation shown by scattered artefacts. Clearance around settlements would have taken place on the infertile sandy soils, while the heavy clay soils covered in thick woodland would have been used for hunting, fuel and building.
Evidence of Forest use occurs for the earliest part of the Bronze Age (2,700 to 750 BC) and the tumulus (burial mound) near Four Counties car park may be from this period, however, an axe (known as a 'palstave') is the only evidence.
Iron Age (750 BC to the Roman Invasion 47 AD) occupation is known from only four sites - King's Standing, Gills Lap, Garden Hill and Chelwood Gate. Garden Hill (private land adjacent to Tabell Ghyll) appears to have been intermittently occupied in the Neolithic/Bronze Age, the Iron Age and then by the Romans. The site at Chelwood Gate (behind Churlwood car park), known as Danes Graves, shows evidence of late Iron Age, pre-Roman iron working.
The Weald may have been an imperial estate during the Roman occupation and was likely to have been devoted to iron production.
The Garden Hill site may have been an administration centre organising the civilian controlled iron works and directing trade to and from London and the south coast. Land use at that timeould have been aimed at fuel production (wood and charcoal) for iron working and also grain and meat to feed the iron workers. The best visual remnant of Roman occupation is the London road which crosses the Forest parallel with the present B2026. An exposed section can be seen at Roman Road car park.