A news story issued by Highways England (21 Jan 2020)…..
Amazing Archaeological Endeavours lead to award nominations for A14’s top archaeologist
Mammoth tusks, rare Roman coins, and Britain’s oldest beer have all been among the amazing archaeological finds on Highways England’s £1.5 billion programme to upgrade the A14.
Now the award-winning work has received a further nod, with lead archaeologist on the project, Dr Steve Sherlock, being nominated for Current Archaeology’s 2020 ‘Archaeologist of the Year’ award. A win would see Dr Sherlock and the A14 team build on their success in the 2019 ‘Rescue Project of the Year’ category.
Steve’s work on the A14 started in 2017. Since then, he and his team have made numerous fascinating discoveries, all the while managing to not delay Britain’s biggest roads project, for which a key section, the new 12-mile Huntingdon bypass, opened a year early last month.
The Yorkshireman has worked on uncovering Britain’s past for over four decades, leading historical projects in his native Teesside, on which he has recently published a book, while also leading the way on major infrastructure projects.
Next up for Steve is the chance to explore thousands of years of history on the Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire border, leading archaeological work for Highways England’s A428 Black Cat to Caxton Gibbet improvement.
Dr Sherlock’s career and achievements
Dr Sherlock did a degree in history at Stafford, before taking his Master’s at Birmingham, and then starting his PhD at Durham and completing it at Leicester. He started as an archaeological digger at Kimmeridge in Dorset work in 1979, excavating Roman finds and pottery for Wessex Archaeology.
Moving back to the North East, he became a digger supervisor for work at Redcar, Cleveland. He excavated his first major project, an Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Norton in 1984, among other projects, before starting work on at the A1 upgrade to a motorway from Wetherby to Walshford in 2003, when discoveries included finding an Iron Age chariot at Ferrybridge.
“I started my own research project in Street House in North Yorkshire, where we found a very rare Anglo-Saxon bed burial within the grave of a princess, evidenced by the gold brooches on her chest,” said Steve. “The work here really raised the profile of heritage in the area, and now they have heritage walks and a small museum is also being proposed there.”
Steve’s work on Operation Nightingale, a project working with injured military veterans working on archaeology excavations, saw him win the Teesside Heroes’ Award in 2015, shortly after he began work on the A1 upgrade to motorway between Leeming and Barton in 2014.
“We excavated a Roman town at Catterick and found a substantial amount of Roman and Iron Age remains at Scotch Corner, including very early coin “pellet” moulds.”
Work on the A14
Highways England tasked Dr Sherlock with leading its archaeological work for the A14, which hired up to 250 archaeologists at its peak.
“We needed to have a targeted approach to archaeology, and to do it to a high standard without holding up to delivery of the road. During our work we found three Anglo Saxon villages, 41 Roman pottery kilns with 215,000 shards of pottery weighing 2.8 tonnes, and 15 Iron Age and Roman settlements.
“Each of the three Anglo Saxon villages was of a different character: one a linear village beside the A1 at Brampton Hut, which was a Roman road at that time; the second a planned village at Houghton west of Brampton; and the third an enclosed hilltop settlement at Conington, which is translated as “King’s Town”, believed to be a border settlement on the frontier between the Dark Age kingdoms of East Anglia and Mercia.
“There were also Neolithic burial sites and seven Bronze Age burial mounds; in total there were almost 500 human remains from all excavations on the A14. We also found a Roman supply depot near Fenstanton, a Roman villa, and some 3.8 tonnes of animal bones.”
During the work, the team found the earliest evidence of beer brewing in Britain, with boiled grain remnants forming a mash indicating use in the fermentation process, dating back to 400 BC.
Another incredible discovery was a rare coin of the ill-fated Roman Emperor Laelianus, who, whilst he was campaigning on the continent, had the coin minted in Mainz. The usurper emperor arose as a contender for ruler of the splinter Gallic Emperor during the Crisis of the Third Century, and his reign lasted perhaps two months before being assassinated – meaning he was likely already dead before the coin was being used in Cambridgeshire.
Separate to the archaeologists’ work, digger operators were also careful when removing gravel from borrow pits – areas of lands rich with materials usable for construction – for use on the road to ensure they did not damage anything beneath. Their caution paid off, and among the items found in the pits were parts of 11 woolly mammoth tusks and three woolly rhino skulls, with parts of a further four all dating back to at least 40,000 BC.
“We found an abandoned Medieval village at Houghton,” Steve continues. “The general story with such villages is that they’re abandoned following the Black Death in the 14th Century, but this one seemed to have been abandoned earlier. There’s the suggestion that the nearby wood to the west was taken for use as the King’s estate, and with the locals unable to hunt animals, collect timber and forage within the wood where the village was, the settlement was no longer sustainable.
“In another location we found a Roman burial site where two of the burials had their legs removed below the knee. At first you think this may have been some macabre punishment carried out prior to death, but that would be more likely to occur during the Anglo-Saxon period, because this ‘punishment’ would be quite unusual during this Christian time. Skeletal analysis showed that they had not been sawed through and they had been removed post mortem, and scientific dating indicated the remains were Roman in date,
Highways England is retaining the services of Dr Sherlock, who will next be starting work on the A428 Black Cat to Caxton Gibbet improvement, while maintaining oversight of categorising and recording the A14 finds with partners MOLA Headland as they compile and archive the finds and produce reports from the excavations.
“We know there are Roman and Iron Age sites along the A428, so I hope we’ll find more evidence for the Anglo Saxon and Medieval settlements in the area too. The gibbet (from Caxton Gibbet) in particular was often something that was used at parish boundaries as a warning to any criminals who may be entering – the body hanging there a Medieval version of ‘Please drive carefully through our village’.
“Having worked on the A14, there are lessons we can take to the A428, such as how we carried out the excavations, starting excavations earlier to focus the work and have areas ready for the construction teams, and all the experience from that earlier work. We can build on the collaborative approaches between the construction team, archaeological contractors, statutory bodies and other partners that have developed on the A14.
“There’s always a strong public interest in archaeology and heritage, in seeing what you excavate over the course of the construction. It’s good to work with the community and share what we have found of the local history. That’s something people can understand as it’s their area – when I did the dig in Catterick in 2013, I had people coming saying they visited the site when the Roman baths were dug up in 1959, and one lady who came even along with one of the decorated pieces of stone from the site then found later in her garden. On the bottom of the stone there was a Roman inscription there that hadn’t been seen before – we only found this out by talking to people in the village.”
Voting is currently open in all of the Current Archaeology awards categories. You can get full details and vote here: https://www.archaeology.co.uk/awards/archaeologist-of-the-year-2020.htm
Steve has just had his latest book published, A Neolithic to Late Roman Landscape on the North-East Yorkshire Coast: Excavations at Street House, covering the history of the area dating back over 6,000 years.
A news story issued by Highways England (Jan 2020)…..
A clever little robot is saving drivers on England’s busiest roads from hundreds of hours of disruption.
The quirky machine uses precise positioning technology to mark out where white lines need to be painted on new or resurfaced roads.
The robot has already saved hundreds of hours of working time on various Highways England projects across the country, including Britain’s biggest road upgrade, the £1.5 billion A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon improvement scheme.
It also recently pre-marked eight miles of the M6 in Staffordshire in four hours. This work would usually take two engineers over a week to complete.
Savings elsewhere include saving 27 hours of working time marking three miles of hard shoulder on the M4 in Berkshire, 77 hours covering five miles of the M6 in Warwickshire, and six hours working on two miles of the M1 in Leicestershire, with further work done on the M60 smart motorway at Manchester.
Besides helping drivers, it also has safety benefits for roadworkers and enables them to focus on completing other essential work on each project.
Julian Lamb, construction director on the A14 where the robot has been used, said:
“We’re always looking at innovative new ways of working, which can help road users, and make our projects more efficient while supporting improved engineering. With safety our top priority, the time savings the robot can provide, coupled with removing our operatives from a potentially hazardous situation, make it a great solution.
“We’ve also been working with a self-driving dumper truck on the project, completing trials of these new technologies to help Highways England more deliver its ambitious programme of roads improvement quickly, safely and efficiently. These technologies are also supporting new jobs, with the engineers of tomorrow needing to learn new skills such as programming this autonomous equipment.”
Ordinarily, pre-marking road markings is a time-consuming job, calculating the positioning of the markings and walking several miles to spray or chalk them on the road. By using the robot, road workers spend far less time in the road and are at less risk of an accident – around 250 drivers illegally drive into roadworks every month, putting workers’ lives at risk. Bending down to pre-mark roads by hand can also raise the risk of back injuries. The robot also boasts improved accuracy and can mark the road faster.
The robot has been so successful, specialist contractor WJ, who adopted the technology for it to complete the pre-marking, has now invested in a second one to help complete more of its work. By completing roadworks faster, the robot will help contribute to the goals of reducing congestion, improving journey times, and supporting economic growth, while cost savings can be used to provide more or better-quality road-building materials.
Wayne Johnston, WJ Group Managing Director, said:
“I am passionate about changing the way we work in this industry and the WJ Robotic PreMarker represents a real step change. However, it is just a starting point, we will continue to invest in research and development to find better, more efficient and safer ways of working.”
The 12-mile Huntingdon Southern Bypass, which makes up around two thirds of the A14 upgrade, opened a year early, in December. Work on the rest of the project, between Swavesey and Milton, continues and is on schedule to completed as planned by December 2020.
Work is well underway on the long-awaited upgrade of the A14 from Cambridge to Huntingdon.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling dug the first spadeful of earth back in November to mark the beginning of construction of the £1.5 billion scheme which will take around four years to complete and is one of Britain’s biggest road building projects.
The upgrade, which will employ around 1,800 people, covers 22 miles, half of which is off the line of the present road. The central section will take four years to complete and work will also start near the A1 at Brampton which will take 18 months. This team will then move to the Histon area which will take around two years to complete. Once the main A14 is finished it will take a further year to complete construction on roads in the Huntingdon area, including the demolition of the A14 flyover.
To see download a detailed map (PDF) – click here
To visit the project website for a progress report – click here