A1 Leeming to Barton: Bainesse Roman Cemetery

North Yorkshire

Client

Carillion/Morgan Sindall Joint Venture (CMS JV) on behalf of Highways England

Services

Excavation

Finds

Environment

Consultancy

As part of the £400 million A1 road upgrade of the 19km between Leeming Bar and Barton in North Yorkshire, more than 150 fields were targeted with archaeological ground investigation. Almost 60 of these areas contained extensive evidence of former human activity.

Significant archaeological features were located south-west of the modern village of Catterick, and c.200m south-west of Roman Dere Street. Previous archaeological investigations, including geophysical survey, had identified an extensive Roman settlement adjacent to the Roman road at this point. A linear geophysical anomaly running parallel to Dere Street appeared to represent a southwest boundary at the rear of the roadside settlement. The excavation uncovered the south-west edge of a cemetery that was active during the Roman and early post-Roman periods. The cemetery was bounded by an extensive enclosure complex, which projected to the south-west of the roadside development.

A 54m-long by 19m-wide strip was investigated. In total, 232 features interpreted as inhumation graves, 121 of which contained bone or teeth, and 17 cremation burials were identified and excavated. A penannular gully and part of a ring ditch were found, both associated with the cemetery. Radiocarbon dating of the human remains demonstrated that the cemetery remained in use from the early Roman period until at least the 5th century.

Most of the inhumations were very simple with no evidence for a nailed coffin and did not contain grave goods. The small number of inhumations with grave goods included ceramic vessels, which may have contained food or drink placed in the graves. Other evidence consisted of objects related to dress and personal adornment, such as nailed footwear and bracelets. One burial of a child aged 3–5 years old was particularly elaborate, as the child was buried wearing a necklace made from jet and glass beads and bronze bracelets on each wrist.

Whilst greater numbers of burials have been excavated from Roman cemeteries in the north of England, these works took place at a time when recording and analytical techniques were relatively undeveloped. The Bainesse Cemetery excavation, therefore, represents the largest single modern sample of the Roman population to be published for the Roman North.

As with all works for the A1L2B scheme, NAA worked with the CMS JV, project consultants AECOM, and Historic England to identify research themes and priorities. NAA’s experience and expertise were crucial to the efficient excavation of the large, complicated Bainesse Cemetery site, enabling the road scheme to progress, whilst enhancing the archaeological record of a largely under-represented type of archaeological site in the region. NAA’s passion for understanding and advancing new techniques and technologies saw us develop a radiocarbon dating strategy for the Bainesse population, the results of which have been pivotal in building a detailed picture of the longevity of the cemetery and helping provide insight into the socio-ethnic backgrounds of the people who lived and died here.

The findings from Bainesse Cemetery, and from all burials found across the scheme, are discussed at length in NAA's monograph, Death, Burial and Identity: 3000 Years of Death in the Vale of Mowbray, which can be downloaded for free from the Archaeology Data Service.

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