Most commercial field archaeologists spend a lot of their time carrying out ‘monitoring’ or ‘watching briefs’, which usually involves standing watching excavation being carried out by other contractors in all weathers and being poised to halt proceedings should anything interesting appear. While many of these jobs result in nothing more than a ‘Negative Watching Brief Report’ lodged with the local Historic Environment Record, sometimes more significant finds are made.
In 2014, Yorkshire Water installed a new sewer in a trench cut into the tarmac of Langton Road, Norton-on-Derwent. In the Roman period, there was a fort at Norton, which was surrounded by a civilian settlement. Given the archaeological potential of the area, NAA was commissioned to carry out a watching brief during the works. Despite the narrow dimensions of the trench, two undated ditches were identified, and a human burial was found, which was fortuitously located in its entirety within the area of one of the slightly larger square access pits dug at either end of the trench.
The skeleton lay on its right-hand side in a flexed (or crouched) position in a short, oval grave, with its head to the north. Analysis of the remains showed that the individual was a female who had been at least 36 years old when they died. They were of near-average Roman height (c.157cm) and suffered from a number of minor lesions and degenerative joint disease probably resulting from daily wear and tear, although their teeth exhibited several large cavities, and several had been lost before they died. Radiocarbon dating showed that they had probably died sometime between the late 1st and late 2nd century AD. Several disarticulated human bones found elsewhere along the trench suggested that at least one additional burial had been disturbed by later agricultural activities.
Several Roman cemeteries have been excavated in the vicinity of the Roman settlement at Norton. The recent find at Langton Road, taken together with several previous discoveries in the vicinity, suggests that the woman was interred within another extensive Roman burial ground, which is now covered by the modern suburb.