Roman riches at Scotch Corner

A range of artefacts were discovered during the excavation, many of which hint at the wealth of some of the settlement’s inhabitants.

Archaeologists working on the site of a major road improvement scheme in North Yorkshire have uncovered the remains of a wealthy roadside settlement dating back 2,000 years.

Excavations at Scotch Corner, near Catterick, have revealed the remains of a wealthy Roman roadside settlement.

Dozens of roundhouses and rectangular structures have been found by Northern Archaeological Associates, who are working on the advice of Historic England experts at Scotch Corner, as part of the Highways England Leeming to Barton scheme. The buildings belonged to a sprawling settlement, stretching over 1.4km north–south on both sides of a number of Roman roads forming an interchange between Dere Street (the modern A1) and the Stainmore Pass (modern A66).

Most of the structures lie within enclosures, and different zones of residential and industrial activity can be identified. In one of the latter, the team found numerous circular structures associated with a series of ditches, from which they recovered large quantities of clay ‘pellet moulds’ used for minting. This method of manufacturing coins is generally associated with the late Iron Age, and it is the first time it has been identified this far north in Europe.

Clay ‘pellet moulds’.

A range of other artefacts were also discovered during the excavation, many of which hint at the wealth of some of the settlement’s inhabitants. Among these, one of the more unusual was a small amber figure thought to represent a toga-clad actor. Possibly made in Italy in the 1st century AD, it is unique in Britain, but a similar example is known from Pompeii. The discovery of imported luxury items like this suggests the site had access to high-status possessions brought along far-reaching trade routes, Historic England reports.

Amber figure.

‘The finds have been exceptional in quality and quantity,’ said Dr Jonathan Shipley of AECOM, Archaeological Clerk-of-Works on site. ‘It may be that the Romans were bringing goods to the site to try to win over the local tribes.’

Although post-excavation analysis is still in its early stages, it appears that the settlement was only short-lived, occupied for around 20-30 years in the mid-1st century. Its decline seems to have coincided with the rise of Catterick – known to the Romans as Cataractonium – just to the south. There the project has also revealed a rich array of finds, including a number of well-preserved Roman shoes and evidence of large-scale leatherworking; a lead plumb-bob used for surveying during the construction of buildings and roads; and large quantities of styli, reflecting Catterick’s status as an important administrative centre and suggesting a considerable degree of literacy.

‘The sheer number of exceptional objects found on this road scheme has been extraordinary,’ said Neil Redfern, Principal Inspector of Ancient Monuments at Historic England. ‘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.’

Photos: Historic England