Category: ExcavationRomanCommercialTeam Insights
Claire's memories of the A1 Scheme
My career at NAA started about a year into the A1L2B project, the role was proposed as a part-time position to help out with the weekly administration tasks involved in running a site of this scale. Six years on and I’m still here!
Although the A1 scheme has nearly come to an end, I have fond memories of it. When I look back it amazes me to think how many archaeologists were working with us at the time – at one point we had over 100 people working on the scheme. The weekly task of the salaries was mammoth and involved compiling multiple site timesheets, with the added complication of driving time and mileage claims. On top of this we had accommodation to find, both long and short term. Varying lengths of staff contracts and property leases and transport to and from site all had to be worked out so that in the end everything was in sync. I remember at one point we even had a pet dog to consider!
Site tools, permatrace and other site-record sheets were in constant demand. Sourcing these and organising their delivery to site was also on our list. I am sure we bought out the North Easts supply of wheelbarrows and mattocks! Logistically it was a huge task.
As part of the site’s administration, we also had records to compile for our partners on the project; different information was needed at different times so we were often searching through our records. This was easier to begin with but towards the end we had boxes and boxes of primary paper records as well as our digital records to organise. These tasks were often very time consuming, but they were also rewarding; in those cases where we got the figures to balance or found the information quickly a mini celebration was held!
One of my favourite parts of working on the A1 scheme was our weekly visits to Leeming to help our supervisors with their logistical and administrative requirements. We also often attended the different sites to collect paperwork or finds from different teams. It was really interesting to see how the archaeology and the road changed week to week and to witness some of the impressive finds that were discovered.
My work on the A1 finished a short while ago but I have continued to witness the hard work that my colleagues have put into creating the three monographs. I am in awe of their enthusiasm and commitment to the project.
Driving on the A1 I often find myself thinking of how it used to be, what we discovered and our time working on the scheme. In short, it has been a privilege to be part of A1L2B.
Julie's memories of the A1 Scheme
As a relative newcomer to NAA (I joined the company in April 2019), I have been immersed in the A1 scheme since day one of my contract and it has been a constant presence in my working life for the last two-and-a-bit years.
I immediately became involved in helping to produce the monographs Contact, Concord, Conquest and, our latest volume Cataractonium: Establishment, Consolidation and Retreat. Both vast undertakings, requiring input from specialists in many different fields.
I have been challenged to move out of my comfort zone, developing confidence in co-ordinating the compilation and editing of chapters for both monographs and it has been a steep, but rewarding learning curve, accompanied every step of the way by extremely knowledgeable and helpful colleagues.
Despite the odd sleepless night, working on the A1 scheme has been a stimulating and rewarding experience. Along the way I have had the opportunity of working with a fantastic team who are passionate about so many aspects of archaeology. The opportunity to contribute to this once-in-a-lifetime project which was running long before I became involved and I’m sure will have a much longer legacy has been unparalleled. I have learnt so much and look forward to seeing how future studies build on our work.
Charlotte's time on the A1
I started working in the post-excavation team at NAA in 2015, when excavations on the A1 scheme were already in full swing, and in the following six years, there has scarcely been a week in which I haven’t worked with material from this scheme. My first week was an absorbing introduction because I helped to record hundreds of coffin nails that were recovered from the Bainesse cemetery; and it was after a week of looking at said nails that the extent of the scheme hit home.
Although based mainly in the post-excavation team, I was also lucky enough to work on site at Scotch Corner for a short time. I was then able to work with the material I’d excavated throughout the entire post-excavation process, up to its deposition with York Museums Trust earlier this year. Being involved in the entire process from start to finish was not only interesting but also very informative. Moreover, the volume and variety of material excavated meant that I have been able to work with some extremely rare finds, which has improved my knowledge greatly and, of course, been fascinating.
My abiding memory of working on this scheme, however, has been the opportunity to meet and work with so many lovely and interesting people, both on site and throughout the post-excavation process. It has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I am sure none of us will ever forget.
Helen's A1 Memories
Before I’d even heard of Northern Archaeological Associates, I often drove along the A1 between Leeming and Barton during the road-widening works; and I occasionally wondered what was being dug up beside the carriageways.
I started work at NAA in November 2019 as publications officer and was immediately immersed in the world of commercial archaeology and production of monographs for the A1 scheme.
A massive amount of material and analyses were required for each monograph. And I was impressed by the depth of knowledge, robust research and quality of work by both in-house and external contributors to develop the content. It was clear that as much activity takes place after roadside excavation as during it, including co-ordinating all that information into the detailed publications.
One important discovery I unearthed was that although archaeology embraces a variety of disciplines, the process doesn't dig deadlines! There were some bumps in the road on this A1 editorial journey but the results are an invaluable in-depth resource. They provide fascinating details about the people and places that occupied this influential route across many centuries and the results are accessible to many types of readers.
And now, when travelling along this 19km stretch of the A1, I view it very differently having read so much about the archaeological investigations and what they revealed beneath the surface of the 150 excavated fields. The project exposed and explained many facets of human life and death in the region, from domestic habits to military might, agricultural and administrative history, temporary sites to permanent settlements and their ultimate demise. Although the evidence is no longer visible in situ it is all available via the amazing monographs and related archives.
Chrystal's memories of the A1
When I started working with the post-excavation team at NAA six and a half years ago, the A1 Leeming-to-Barton scheme was already well underway. While I had volunteered extensively with other archaeological units, this was my first outing as a professional archaeologist, and I was definitely thrown in at the deep end! Over the years the department expanded into a second warehouse, which was inexplicably full from the day we moved in (and still is), and the team grew too. I had the opportunity to work with people from all over Europe, and as an immigrant to the UK myself, it was fun to compare stories. As the volume of post-ex work has wound down, our team has contracted but many of us still keep in touch.
While working on the A1, I developed a professional specialism in ceramic building materials (CBM) – that’s generally bricks and tiles to normal people! I must admit that I catch myself observing buildings much more closely than I used to and I have even made the odd journey just to see some ‘interesting’ CBM.
My branch of post-excavation work has many different facets: dealing with the physical finds and environmental materials themselves of course, a lot of data wrangling, producing reports, and presenting our findings to the public. One of my favourite memories from working on the A1 scheme was an open day we hosted at Scotch Corner. While most of our visitors that day were locals interested in what we’d found, we also had a number of construction workers from the scheme drop in. Normally their perspective of archaeology was from the cab of a machine or across a field, and it was wonderful to be able to show them some of the finds they helped bring to light in more detail, and explain how they tell us about the past. While the results of construction work are apparent, archaeological results can be less visible unless you’re involved in the discipline. It was satisfying and important to be able to communicate these results with different members of the team.
I had ‘history’ with the scheme, having excavated numerous sites in the Catterick area over the past 30 years including supervising the trial trenching for the current phase back in 2005–6. This was the fourth section of A1 improvements I’d worked on and I’ve always ended up being handed the keys to a van, minibus or four-wheel drive, so it seemed entirely natural that, apart from a bit of digging and machine-watching, most of my role this time around went down on timesheets as ‘mobilisation/demobilisation’.
Since there were usually several sites running at any one time this included a lot of moving people, equipment and paperwork around the labyrinthine roadworks and to and from the office and accommodation, and taking people shopping. Moving and keeping track of hundreds of boxes of finds and thousands of soil samples meant there was always a stack of clipboards in the van along with the toolkit and obscure spare parts for running repairs, particularly to the much-abused fleet of wheelbarrows. Since I was around and about, providing rolling traffic reports and having a detailed knowledge of the rural lanes around the scheme helped managers get to meetings and ensured that the staff got home after a long day at work whatever the latest traffic jam in the roadworks! Disposal, recycling or upcycling of damaged and broken equipment was a constant task, and finding replacements was challenging in an essentially rural area.
Being a ‘spare’ supervisor meant filling in when other supervisors were unavailable due to leave, illness or on weekends, when unexpected small pieces of work came up on the scheme, or where metal-detecting was required. It also meant that I could sign-off endless bits of paper, supply background information or technical advice as required across the scheme, source specialist equipment when needed, and frequently help out with any spare cake – always turning up at tea-break is an advanced management skill that I’ve finally mastered! Given the need for the site supervisors to be physically on site as much as possible, I also ended up authoring or contributing to dozens of ‘grey literature’ and publication reports.
It was quite a varied workload, but one or two highlights stand out. Apart from working with an absolutely outstanding and entertaining workforce, one of the most satisfying (and least obvious) things I was involved in was a Friday afternoon experimenting with the best character size and typeface for signage for a site open day. Then back to the office for a Friday evening making the signs and out early on the Saturday to place them – and members of the public actually commented on how well they worked!
And I found a gold ring.
For many years my life revolved around the A1 project so I have a vast array of vivid and enduring memories to call upon. It is rather tempting to compose an epic saga recalling endless fields of archaeological toil, senses and bodies attuned to the furious pace of an infrastructure programme, followed by the agony and ecstasy of analysis and composition in dark and dusty archives. But I’ll spare everyone the histrionics because, looking back, what really sticks in the mind are the wonderful people who made up the archaeology and construction teams.
Bridges and smooth tarmac may be the most obvious tangible products of a motorway upgrade scheme, but a greater human legacy is achieved by the dedicated individuals who coalesce to enable and create them. For me, the A1 now seems to represent a zenith in collaborative working between diverse teams of skilled experts who hailed from many nations and who immeasurably enhanced our ability to comprehend and share the fantastic discoveries.
Looming erosion of planning guidance, university funding cuts and the current scramble for archaeologists may be testament to a profession under siege, but I hope that we can find a way to continue enlightening our past and enriching our society through the proceeds and processes of archaeology, which are life-affirming and valuable in equal measure. In this spirit, I’ll crack on with managing the current batch of projects while staying alert for the next big linear scheme.
I feel very privileged to have worked on the A1 scheme over the past eight years. The opportunity to direct sites within the heart of a Roman town felt like a dream job to me and it was great to be able to see the sites right through from fieldwork to post-excavation to publication. I particularly enjoyed the excavations at Agricola Bridge which involved investigation of the point at which Dere Street passed through the town wall via a gatehouse. This site also produced what was for me, and many others, the most memorable find from Cataractonium – a beautifully carved phallus on the side of a re-used bridge stone, affectionately known as the ‘Catterick cock’!
During the post-excavation phase, it was very satisfying to be able to draw together the stratigraphic evidence collected on site and combine it with specialist information to create a sound chronological framework for the development of Cataractonium. Following some hours poring over a matrix, a notable eureka moment for me was the realisation that we could date the town wall to the Severan period which sat very well with the historical context.
The publication phase was also memorable – although maybe not for the right reasons! Most of the text for the monograph was written during 2020 in lockdown conditions, which made already tight deadlines even more challenging. For those that aren’t aware, myself and my husband were the principal authors of the third monograph and we alternated hiding in the utility room to write sections with home-schooling our two young children – not the most conducive environment for writing!
As the project comes to a close, what stands out for me is the hard work of the staff involved in all elements of the venture and the camaraderie between colleagues. I feel very honoured to have worked with such a professional team who came together to deliver a successful project. I have compiled a collection of photos of people who worked on the scheme – apologies if you don’t find yourself there but I hope they will jog some fond memories of time spent working on the A1.