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Sunday, 6 November 2011

Highways Agency unearths the past: Roman 'industrial estate' discovered near the A1

HIGHWAYS AGENCY News Release issued by COI News Distribution Service on 24 August 2010

A Roman 'industrial estate' has been discovered as a result of archaeological work for the Highway Agency's £318 million scheme to upgrade the A1 to a three-lane motorway between Dishforth and Leeming in North Yorkshire.
The unearthed site is linked to a known imperial fort at Healam Bridge, near Dishforth, built some 2,000 years ago.
The excavation, which started in July 2009 and was completed this summer, has given experts a rare opportunity to investigate a Roman site devoted to industrial activity.

Gary Frost, Highways Agency project manager, said:

"The Highways Agency is committed to protecting this country's heritage and working with organisations to do so. Throughout we have worked very closely with the experts in the field, including English Heritage, to preserve important archaeology.

"With the A1 we knew we were delivering this essential road improvement scheme in an area rich with history but even so, the findings made were far more than expected. They uncovered a hidden world, showing how the Romans sustained the fort and the surrounding area. The artists' impression of how the site could have looked really helps bring it to life."

A major feature of the industrial complex was a water powered flour mill used to grind grain and produce food for the garrison and other units travelling along the Roman road of Dere Street - the modern A1. The adjacent buildings, thought to have been occupied up to the 4th century AD, may also have been a supply centre for a wider area.
There is also an indication that the Roman occupants may have worn socks - rust on the nail from a Roman sandal appears to have impressions from fibres which could suggest that a sock-type garment was being worn.

Other artefacts uncovered on the A1 include animal bones, pottery, coins, metal work and brooches, and 14 human cremations were found in individual pits, along with the well-preserved skeleton of a horse underneath a building. The animal is thought to have been slaughtered as a sacrifice to the gods to bring the building good luck.
Blaise Vyner of AECOM, Cultural Heritage Team Leader for the Joint-Venture contractor Carillion Morgan Sindall, said:

"We know a lot about Roman forts, which have been extensively studied, but to excavate an industrial area with a mill is really exciting. We hope it can tell us more about how such military outposts catered for their needs, as self sufficiency would have been important. The findings show how the route has served people throughout the different periods.

"The industrial area comprised a series of large timber buildings, mostly on the north side of a beck, which powered the mill. It would have supplied the fort with goods and provisions - probably processing meat and other food, as well as flour, and could also have developed into something of a settlement focus in its own right. You only have to look up the road to Catterick to see how garrison towns are serviced by local shops. Perhaps we have something similar here."
Neil Redfern, English Heritage North Yorkshire & City of York, said:

"The Roman remains at Healam Bridge have illustrated the importance of this site on Dere Street and given us an insight in to industrial processes which had not previously been recognised or understood at the site.

"The time span of the remains uncovered illustrates how the site developed from a frontier fort and settlement to a more settled site with strong local economic role relating to the presence of mills along the banks of the beck. The complexity and depth of deposits were unexpected and the excavation team has dealt with them very professionally."

Very little is known about the Roman fort itself, which is now a scheduled monument and which only came to light as a result of geophysical surveys carried out in the 1990s in readiness for the A1's planned upgrading. The line of the new road was adjusted to avoid the main site.

Further south, work on the A46 in Nottinghamshire has also uncovered archaeological remains dating back to the last Ice Age, together with Iron Age and Roman settlements which have been uncovered as part of a Highways Agency scheme to upgrade the A46 between Newark and Widmerpool.

Among the finds were ancient flint tools and flint knapping debris that date back to about 11,000 BC - this was around the end of the last Ice Age, when Stone Age hunter-gathers returned as the climate began to warm up.
Footage of the findings being uncovered on the A1 can be viewed on the Agency's YouTube page by clicking on www.youtube.com/highwaysagency and images of the findings from along the A1 and A46 can be viewed on Flickr via www.flickr.com/highwaysagency.

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