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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 December, 2003, 14:41 GMT
The roads to ruins
By Greig Watson
BBC News Online, Nottingham

Excavation next to the A1
Archaeologists frequently work alongside developers
Developers are often seen as the enemies of archaeology, with bulldozers poised to destroy unique remains.

In truth, much of the excavation in Britain is financed by developers who are legally obliged to have archaeologists on site as they work.

The recent discovery of an Iron Age chariot on the route of the A1 in West Yorkshire has highlighted the work done by the Highways Agency.

The construction or expansion of roads, while always controversial, has uncovered some fascinating evidence of England's past.

New discoveries

The chariot was found during work to widen the A1, currently one of the largest road improvement schemes in the country.

Alec Briggs, Highways Agency project leader for the scheme, said: "At all stages of the scheme, the Highways Agency has taken a responsible approach to ensure that sufficient time and resources was allocated to investigate any historic features which are discovered during the preparatory works.

"The quality of the remains found during this dig underline how important this approach is."

In just the past two years, other road schemes have brought to light a wealth of information about England's past.

Fresh Perspective
A1 chariot in situ
Roads, and also pipelines, make archaeologists dig in places they would not normally look
Ian Panter, English Heritage
In 2002, work to make the A11 near Attleborough, Norfolk, a dual carriageway uncovered a Bronze Age settlement, dating from 2000 BC to 1000 BC along with a field system and preserved wooden river crossing.

Also found was a hand axe from the middle Palaeolithic era, roughly 120,000 years ago - one of the earliest pieces of evidence for human activity in Britain.

As well as flint tools, excavations in advance of a bypass at Harnham, in Wiltshire, have found evidence of burning in the form of charcoal.

If confirmed, this would the earliest evidence of man using fire in Britain, possibly in Europe.

More settlements, this time dating from the Roman period, were found at the A120 project near Stansted and in the path of the M6 Toll Wall in Staffordshire, were found.

As well as traces of buildings, also uncovered were the inhabitants, archaeologists finding dozens of graves, giving information about the population.

Gilded brooches

When building the new A46 from Newark to Lincoln, the road builders found, of all things, a road.

This was the Fosse Way, one of the great roads of Roman Britain, complete with wheel ruts and repairs.

These projects have even turned up buried treasure.

Remains from the Bronze Age to the Saxon period were found on the route the A41 Aston Clinton Bypass, including the Saxon burial of a woman wearing gilded bronze brooches decorated with strings of beads.

Not all discoveries are from the ancient world. The M60 ring road near Manchester found the traces of one the great houses of the North West.

Excavations at Sale Old Hall
Excavations uncover remains of all ages
Sale Old Hall was built in the 17th Century, but demolished in the 1920s.

Archaeologists are now examining the area to see whether the house, owned by the Massey family, covered any earlier structures.

Ian Panter, regional archaeological scientific advisor for English Heritage, said: "Developer-funded archaeology is very important.

"It is a major source of funding for rescue archaeology, with developers spending 40m to 50m every year.

"It really increases our knowledge and understanding of the country's past."

He added: "Roads, and also pipelines, make archaeologists dig in places they would not normally look, especially rural areas.

"Landscapes that were thought to be archaeologically sterile are suddenly found to be full of Iron Age and prehistoric settlements.

"Our policy is to leave sites as undisturbed as possible, which sometimes means them being buried beneath roads.

"But sometimes the disruption is too great or there is the threat of metal 'detectorists' digging the area, so, like the chariot, they are investigated."

Chariot swings into history centre
08 Dec 03  |  West Yorkshire
New road reveals Stone Age site
07 Oct 03  |  Wiltshire
Quick work needed at ancient site
09 Aug 03  |  West Midlands

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