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New Discoveries on A1 Shed Light on Romans in Northern England

Archaeologists have recently discovered a range of Roman objects in North Yorkshire. Discovered as part of the £380 million Highways England Leeming to Barton scheme to upgrade the existing dual carriageway with a new three lane motorway, the finds are shedding new light on Roman life in Northern England.

Bacchus Glass Head
Glass head of Bacchus © Northern Archaeological Associates

The finds

The finds hint at a far more sophisticated industrial and administrative centre in Yorkshire than had previously been known about. They also point to wealthy citizens having lived in the area. The extensive excavations have been carried out by Northern Archaeological Associates, on the advice of Historic England’s experts.

Amber carving

Archaeologists at Scotch Corner recently found a figure of a toga-clad actor carved from a block of amber. Thought to have been made in Italy during the 1st century AD, a similar example was also found at Pompeii. Nothing like this has ever before been found in the UK. Its presence at Scotch Corner, along with a large number of other high status imported items suggests this was an early site furnished with the finest Roman goods.

Amber Carving, Catterick
Part of an amber carving of a toga-clad actor, found in Catterick © Northern Archaeological Associates

Roman shoes

A number of well-preserved Roman leather shoes have been found in Catterick, a town south of Scotch Corner known by the Romans as Cataractonium. Large sheets of leather have also been found in the town, perhaps used for producing clothes, indicating that the town was an important leatherworking centre possibly supporting the Roman military.

Leather Shoe, Catterick
Leather roman shoe, found in Catterick © Northern Archaeological Associates

Silver snake ring

A silver ring shaped like a snake which wraps around the finger has also been found in Catterick. This is a rare find and like the amber figure, it hints at the great wealth of the people who lived here.

Silver Snake Finger Ring Catterick
Silver snake finger ring, found in Catterick © Northern Archaeological Associates

The sheer amount of exceptional objects found on this road scheme has been extraordinary. Through them we are learning more and more about life here in the Roman period. This project has given us a unique opportunity to understand how the Romans conducted their military expansion into Northern England and how civil life changed under their control.

Neil Redfern, Principal Inspector of Ancient Monuments at Historic England

The excavations so far

The excavations have also led to the unearthing of a major Roman settlement at Scotch Corner which pre-dates settlements in York and Carlisle by 10 years. This tells us that the Romans had a major presence and even possibly began their territorial expansion into northern England a decade earlier than previously thought.

The settlement was unusually large for the north of England, stretching over 1.4 kilometres from north to south which is roughly the size of 13 football pitches positioned end to end.

The finds uncovered at the site, from brooches to gaming counters, suggest the people who lived here, as at Catterick, were wealthy.

A1 Excavation
The A1 excavation in progress © Northern Archaeological Associates

The settlement seems to have only been occupied for a short period, perhaps no more than 20-30 years. It probably became redundant as the Romans kept moving into the north and its demise seems to coincide with the rise of Catterick which we know was an administrative and economic centre in the north of England.

Throughout this project we have been working alongside archaeologists as we make this major improvement to one of the UK’s most historic roads. It is fascinating to discover that nearly 2,000 years ago the Romans were using the A1 route as a major road of strategic importance and using the very latest technological innovations from that period to construct the original road – the very same thing that Highways England is doing today.”

Tom Howard, Highways England project manager

Works to upgrade the A1 through Yorkshire over the last 20 years have resulted in more than 60 miles of the road being investigated by archaeologists, from Ferrybridge near Leeds up to Piercebridge. Since these excavations began in 2014, a team of around 60 archaeologists have discovered thousands of artefacts from a range of different periods, demonstrating that this area has been part of England’s story for thousands of years.

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