Category: ExcavationRomanCommercialTeam Insights
I had ‘history’ with the scheme, having excavated numerous sites in the Catterick area over the past 30 years including supervising the trial trenching for the current phase back in 2005–6. This was the fourth section of A1 improvements I’d worked on and I’ve always ended up being handed the keys to a van, minibus or four-wheel drive, so it seemed entirely natural that, apart from a bit of digging and machine-watching, most of my role this time around went down on timesheets as ‘mobilisation/demobilisation’.
Since there were usually several sites running at any one time this included a lot of moving people, equipment and paperwork around the labyrinthine roadworks and to and from the office and accommodation, and taking people shopping. Moving and keeping track of hundreds of boxes of finds and thousands of soil samples meant there was always a stack of clipboards in the van along with the toolkit and obscure spare parts for running repairs, particularly to the much-abused fleet of wheelbarrows. Since I was around and about, providing rolling traffic reports and having a detailed knowledge of the rural lanes around the scheme helped managers get to meetings and ensured that the staff got home after a long day at work whatever the latest traffic jam in the roadworks! Disposal, recycling or upcycling of damaged and broken equipment was a constant task, and finding replacements was challenging in an essentially rural area.
Being a ‘spare’ supervisor meant filling in when other supervisors were unavailable due to leave, illness or on weekends, when unexpected small pieces of work came up on the scheme, or where metal-detecting was required. It also meant that I could sign-off endless bits of paper, supply background information or technical advice as required across the scheme, source specialist equipment when needed, and frequently help out with any spare cake – always turning up at tea-break is an advanced management skill that I’ve finally mastered! Given the need for the site supervisors to be physically on site as much as possible, I also ended up authoring or contributing to dozens of ‘grey literature’ and publication reports.
It was quite a varied workload, but one or two highlights stand out. Apart from working with an absolutely outstanding and entertaining workforce, one of the most satisfying (and least obvious) things I was involved in was a Friday afternoon experimenting with the best character size and typeface for signage for a site open day. Then back to the office for a Friday evening making the signs and out early on the Saturday to place them – and members of the public actually commented on how well they worked!
And I found a gold ring.
For many years my life revolved around the A1 project so I have a vast array of vivid and enduring memories to call upon. It is rather tempting to compose an epic saga recalling endless fields of archaeological toil, senses and bodies attuned to the furious pace of an infrastructure programme, followed by the agony and ecstasy of analysis and composition in dark and dusty archives. But I’ll spare everyone the histrionics because, looking back, what really sticks in the mind are the wonderful people who made up the archaeology and construction teams.
Bridges and smooth tarmac may be the most obvious tangible products of a motorway upgrade scheme, but a greater human legacy is achieved by the dedicated individuals who coalesce to enable and create them. For me, the A1 now seems to represent a zenith in collaborative working between diverse teams of skilled experts who hailed from many nations and who immeasurably enhanced our ability to comprehend and share the fantastic discoveries.
Looming erosion of planning guidance, university funding cuts and the current scramble for archaeologists may be testament to a profession under siege, but I hope that we can find a way to continue enlightening our past and enriching our society through the proceeds and processes of archaeology, which are life-affirming and valuable in equal measure. In this spirit, I’ll crack on with managing the current batch of projects while staying alert for the next big linear scheme.
I feel very privileged to have worked on the A1 scheme over the past eight years. The opportunity to direct sites within the heart of a Roman town felt like a dream job to me and it was great to be able to see the sites right through from fieldwork to post-excavation to publication. I particularly enjoyed the excavations at Agricola Bridge which involved investigation of the point at which Dere Street passed through the town wall via a gatehouse. This site also produced what was for me, and many others, the most memorable find from Cataractonium – a beautifully carved phallus on the side of a re-used bridge stone, affectionately known as the ‘Catterick cock’!
During the post-excavation phase, it was very satisfying to be able to draw together the stratigraphic evidence collected on site and combine it with specialist information to create a sound chronological framework for the development of Cataractonium. Following some hours poring over a matrix, a notable eureka moment for me was the realisation that we could date the town wall to the Severan period which sat very well with the historical context.
The publication phase was also memorable – although maybe not for the right reasons! Most of the text for the monograph was written during 2020 in lockdown conditions, which made already tight deadlines even more challenging. For those that aren’t aware, myself and my husband were the principal authors of the third monograph and we alternated hiding in the utility room to write sections with home-schooling our two young children – not the most conducive environment for writing!
As the project comes to a close, what stands out for me is the hard work of the staff involved in all elements of the venture and the camaraderie between colleagues. I feel very honoured to have worked with such a professional team who came together to deliver a successful project. I have compiled a collection of photos of people who worked on the scheme – apologies if you don’t find yourself there but I hope they will jog some fond memories of time spent working on the A1.