As the A1 trunk road is upgraded, archaeologists are working alongside the road contractors, taking advantage of the disturbance to make new discoveries about life in the past in this area.
They have made discoveries about life in the past from as far back as 10,000 years ago – probably the earliest humans to live in the area. But what fascinates me about archaeology is what hasn’t changed, rather than what has.
As the archaeologists described the discoveries made alongside the works to improve the A1 from Leeming to Barton, so many things seemed not to have changed. A Roman road ran along here: it crossed the Swale not far from the present A1 bridge. A suburb grew out from the town, hugging the sides of the road as it ran north towards Scotland.
In the suburb were many bread ovens. Were they roadside cafes, joked someone. Maybe they were, came the answer – though they might also have been baking bread for the hundreds of hungry soldiers in the nearby garrison: a garrison not so far from the Army’s present Garrison at Catterick.
And so, life carries on. But people have been travelling through this landscape for far, far longer than the Romans. One of the finds discovered next to the road was a Neolithic hand axe from Langdale in the Lake District, dated from 4,000 to 2,500 BC.
And they found items even older, carefully crafted flint tools from around 10,000 years ago: the Mesolithic period.
Also from this time, they found signs of a ‘structure’, that they reckon was some sort of shelter. Archaeologist Dr Stephen Sherlock likens it to a windbreak seen on the beach today: an arc of stakes, which would have supported something to keep the wind out.
Finding evidence of a structure this old is very rare, but throughout the length of the road scheme, the team have found evidence of human habitation over many millennia: it seems that the Vale of Mowbray has been a desirable address for a long, long time.
Neil Redfern, of English Heritage, is delighted at what they’ve found, and says it helps to inform their knowledge of how people moved through, and utilised, the landscape, over thousands of years.
There’s a lot more to discover. Around seventy archaeologists expect to continue digging beside the road works throughout 2015. They will then spend up to two years analysing their finds, including studying the bodies of around 60 people buried during the Roman era. After study, the bodies are to be reinterred.
Who knows what they will discover. Were these people migrants from elsewhere in the Roman Empire, or were they born locally? How did they live? What did they die of?
To find out more, Northern Archaeological Associates will post updates on their website:
When the finds are fully analysed, the Highways Agency will publish a report.
A report on archaeology discovered on the previous section of the A1 to be upgraded, Dishforth to Leeming, is available at http://m.northyorks.gov.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=22127
Read more in Dalesman Magazine, “Roman Road”, April 2015 issue