What we've learnt from the A1 scheme

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Consultancy
Geophysics
Excavation
Roman
Infrastructure
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Greg Speed

It's the second week of our month focusing on the work we did as part of the recent A1 scheme. This week we asked our Senior Project Officer, Greg, a couple of questions about what we have learnt from the scheme, both as a company and in terms of the archaeology. Read on to find out the answers!

 

What lessons have NAA learnt about running large-scale development projects?

Although NAA has lots of experience of archaeology on major infrastructure projects (not least two previous A1 schemes), the A1 Leeming to Barton project was, in archaeological terms, unusually complex and represented one of the largest heritage projects ever undertaken in northern England. Over 200 professional archaeologists were involved, with excavations running between 2013 and 2017. Post-excavation analysis and publication are underway and due to be completed in 2020, and deposition of the archive at the Yorkshire Museum is planned for 2021. Unsurprisingly, the whole process has presented a learning curve for everyone involved! Although this affected all aspects of the project, several examples stand out.

Delivery of complex construction schemes, such as the A1, is the result of a collaboration of numerous ‘partners’, ranging from Government bodies to construction sub-contractors, and, not least, the local communities affected by the works. Working smoothly in partnership with so many bodies was, with careful planning, rarely an issue. However, we occasionally got some unusual requests, such as when we were asked if we could supply someone with a camera on a long pole to take some promotional photos!

The complexity of the archaeology meant that innovative approaches had to be implemented to record vast amounts of data within the excavation deadlines. Extensive use was made of planning by digital photogrammetry to quickly record the archaeology for posterity and all aspects of both site and post-excavation recording were streamlined as far as possible.

An aspect of archaeological fieldwork that rarely receives much attention is logistics. On a huge, multi-site project like the A1, this element is magnified a hundred-fold. A senior member of the site staff was eventually assigned this task full-time, who ensured that personnel were transported to sites efficiently and kept track of equipment, paperwork, personnel and thousands of soil samples! Anticipating what would be needed where and when, as well as acquiring supplies and filling in various other roles as required, allowed the site supervisors and project management to concentrate on their tasks and made for considerably smoother running of the fieldwork.       

 

Q. How has the scheme advanced our knowledge of the Romans in the area?

The A1 Leeming to Barton project, although only covering 19km of road, uncovered parts of no less than four Roman settlements that were linked by Dere Street, the Roman road that is closely followed by the modern motorway in this area. This included the Roman roadside settlement at Scurragh House, a totally unanticipated discovery despite all the evaluation works that had been carried out in advance of the scheme.

Perhaps the most significant knowledge generated by the project came from the excavations at Scotch Corner. Previous investigations had shown that there was widespread Late Iron Age occupation in the area, but the new excavations (together with an extensive geophysical survey by NAA) has shown this to have been a very large settlement that is probably of international significance! The results of our investigations will be published in a forthcoming monograph (Fell forthcoming). Large quantities of high-status imported objects found in early contexts indicated that the site had links with the Roman Empire in the decades prior to Roman military annexation of northern England in c.AD70. Scotch Corner was also clearly associated with the nearby site at Stanwick, which is thought to have served as the capital of Cartimandua, last ruler of the Brigantes. Probably the most surprising find at Scotch Corner, located in a part of Britain where there was no Iron Age coinage, was a large assemblage of coin-pellet moulds, which would have been used to produce the blanks for striking bronze, silver and gold coins.

At Catterick Roman Town (Cataractonium), excavations were carried out in 1959–1960 during construction of the original A1 dual carriageway. The new, more extensive, investigations have permitted examination of the full depth of the Roman sequence (up to 3m deep in some areas!) and recovered a huge assemblage of artefacts and environmental remains, one of the largest recovered from the northern part of the Roman province to date. This material has helped to refine, and sometimes reinterpret, our understanding of the development both of the town and the society(s) that occupied it. Our work will continue to provide an invaluable research resource for decades to come. A second major monograph detailing the results of these excavations is currently in preparation (Ross and Ross forthcoming).  

Two kilometres to the south of Cataractonium, investigations at the Roman roadside settlement at Bainesse recorded a range of industrial and agricultural activity, complementing settlement evidence recorded nearby in the 1980s. The most significant new find here was the edge of an extensive Roman cemetery, which will be the subject of the next blog in this series, so make sure to check back next week to find out more about this exciting site.

The number of Roman settlement sites now known along the line of Dere Street through North Yorkshire, and the difficulty of identifying some of the settlements without excavation, raises questions about wider population density and the nature of society in northern England during the Roman period. One of the most important themes that can be drawn out from the project is that the ‘Roman period’ in the area can no longer be treated in isolation with a neat beginning and end, Instead, the archaeology shows that these were periods of transition and were much more blurred than the textbooks suggest.

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