Unearthing the Past

27.08.09

The historical interest of a site can impose restrictions upon its developmental use – making the regeneration of some empty sites -that would otherwise be prime options for regeneration, extremely difficult.

A former car park in Castle Lane, Bedford was central to regeneration proposals for the town centre. For more than thirty years it had posed complicated constraints for development proposals – in particular that it contains two Scheduled Ancient Monuments1. RPS was successful in developing and delivering an Archaeological Strategy2, that resolved the site’s development issues.

Working within the design team, and in consultation with English Heritage and the County Archaeologist, RPS was able to minimise ground impacts thus reducing the amount of required archaeological excavation. This had a positive effect on the client’s cost plan and development programme and helped them to achieve financial viability.

A meticulously planned piling impact of 1% of the site ensured preservation in-situ of significant archaeological remains. The remains of a medieval lime-kiln have been preserved in a purpose-built display facility and the foundations of a medieval building have been displayed in an open Archaeological Park opening up the link between the town, and the castle, and river.

RPS’ approach and designs enabled the project to win first prize in the ‘Places for All: Strengthening communities through culture and heritage’ category at the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) Annual Awards this month. The judges concluded that:

“Castle Quay used the development site’s heritage to create a new place from a previously neglected area and give it a unique identity.”

The planned £87m Weymouth Relief Road revealed a surprise finding as ‘time discover[ed] truth3’, during excavations at an extensive cutting crossing the South Dorset Ridgeway. The archaeological team, managed by RPS, discovered a mysterious mass burial of more than forty-five separated skeletons.

The skeletons are male and aged around 15-20 years old, with skulls, rib cages and femurs grouped separately within the burial pit. The separate placement of the skulls implies a revenge or reprisal situation as might occur in battle. Dating analysis is not yet completed, but they are estimated to date from around AD43, coinciding with the Roman invasion of Iron Age Britain.

Other unearthed finds included a Bronze Age round barrow that appears to have been used for several generations and contained the remains of a dagger, and evidence of Roman nails presumed to be from military footwear together with pottery fragments.

RPS is providing environmental support to the contractor4 for the project including the design and management of archaeological works, and ecological, landscape, remediation and noise advice. The finds of the dig are being carefully dated and classified in Oxford before exhibition at a Dorset museum.

RPS has a broad range of expertise in managing and delivering archaeological strategies with specialized skills in a number of significant fields including Environmental Impact Assessment, preservation in-situ of archaeological remains, Archaeological Construction Management, historic park preservation, industrial archaeology, and historic military facilities preservation.

September 2009 update:

Completion of accurate radio-carbon dating has now confirmed that the skeletons found at the Weymouth Relief Road site date to between AD890 and AD1030 - corresponding with an established Saxon settlement in England, that was disturbed by smaller invasions, in particular from Scandinavia. Delicate analysis of bone remains does not show significant battle scars, leading researchers to pursue a possible theory that the skeletons may be from a Viking raiding party. The site resembles sites typically chosen for Saxon executions.

1 Scheduled Monument Consent was obtained by RPS prior to works, to preserve the monuments and facilitate the progression of the project.

2 On behalf of Complex Development Projects Ltd.

3 “Time discovers Truth” Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger. c 4BC – AD65).

4 Skanska.