Archaeologists at a major project to upgrade the A1 to a motorway have uncovered several significant discoveries including a rare Roman brooch from Eastern Europe and a miniature sword.
An archaeological team of around 60 people have been working along the A1 between Leeming Bar and Barton for two years as part of a Highways England scheme to install an extra lane.
During that time, archaeologists have uncovered more than 177,000 artefacts and sieved more than 50 tonnes of sediment samples. They have found numerous artefacts dating between the Middle Stone age, Iron Age and Roman period.
In a first for the UK, the team discovered a Roman cicada brooch made in Pannonia – a region that today includes parts of Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia – which provides evidence of a multi-national population or long-distance trade with Catterick.
Another extremely rare find is a miniature sword, complete with iron blade, copper alloy scabbard and bone handle recovered during excavations at Scotch Corner – thought to an offering for the gods or a small pocket knife.
Ceramic pots and personal possessions have also been found alongside human remains at a Roman cemetery at Bainesse, which are thought to have been gifts for the dead.
The team will leave the site later this month but will continue to study and verify the findings, some of which will go to the York Museum Trust and go on display within North Yorkshire.
Much of the work has focused on sites along the Great North Road – an ancient road which ran adjacent to the path of the current A1 and has been a focus of activity since Roman times.
The road would have been an important strategic route – just as it is for the many thousands of people who travel along it today.
Dr Hannah Russ, from Northern Archaeological Associates, said: “The quality and preservation of the artefacts and environmental remains from this scheme is outstanding. We are learning so many new things about the people who were living in the vicinity of the A1 in the past.”
Highways England Project Manager, Tom Howard, said: “It is fascinating to discover that nearly 2,000 years ago the Romans were utilising the A1 route as a major road of strategic importance and using the very latest technological innovations from that period.
“We are doing the same thing today – using the latest technology to improve this important route and significantly reduce journey times.”
Once completed, the A1 Leeming to Barton scheme will create a continuous motorway-standard route between London and Newcastle – including the M1 and A1M. It will also improve journey times and increase safety.