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Before Bedale

By 15/09/2021September 24th, 2021News

Today marks the press release of our latest popular publication ‘Before Bedale: Archaeological excavations along the route of the Bedale, Aiskew and Leeming Bar Bypass’ which is available as a free download by clicking here.

PCA undertook excavations in 2015 ahead of the construction of a new road, bypassing Bedale, Aiskew and Leeming Bar, and the results of our excavations of two key sites have been summarised on the North Yorkshire County Council website to mark the release of the booklet. Click here to read their article.

North Yorkshire County Council’s Principal Archaeologist, Peter Rowe, with the booklet.

‘Before Bedale’ throws light on how people lived in the area from around 2,500 years ago onwards. The earliest site excavated was an Iron Age ditched enclosure at Bedale, already identified during aerial survey.

The Iron Age enclosure ditch with associated finds from the site at Bedale.

However, the second site, a Roman villa at Aiskew, was completely unexpected. Excavations revealed the layout of the villa, but only the part that would eventually be beneath the road was excavated. The Yorkshire Post led with the headline ’95 per cent of Roman villa in North Yorkshire field is yet to be uncovered’ – read their article here.

The remainder of the villa has now been scheduled. “With the villa itself, we have only just tickled it,” said Peter Rowe. “Only one room has been excavated and the rest of it recorded in plan, so we have seen perhaps five per cent of the overall villa. There is so much more potential in the site that maybe one day researchers can go back to. There is still this fantastic archaeological resource beneath the fields in Bedale, which one day might give up its secrets.”

A reconstruction of the Roman villa, the hypocausted room during excavation, and some of the unexpected finds from Aiskew.

Peter Rowe, Principal Archaeologist, said: “The discovery of the Roman villa enabled the archaeologists to compare a native style of life, farming that largely relied on keeping cattle in enclosures, with this more developed Roman farm, with stone buildings and crops. It demonstrates the way the landscape changed in that critical 500 to 600 years when the Romans were making contact with the natives.”

There was also a third fascinating discovery that not only physically connected the two sites but also connected them to the present. It was a routeway that ran along the higher, well-drained land on which the settlements sat.

The cover image of the booklet, with an artist’s reconstruction of the enclosure site overlain onto an aerial photo of the excavation, shows how, remarkably, the line of the new bypass follows the route of a trackway established over 2000 years ago, following the higher, well drained land along the Bedale and Scurf Becks.

Involving the community was integral to the project. Jennifer Proctor, then regional manager of PCA, said: “Involving the public as much as possible was important to us, and we did a lot of work with local schools and groups.

“This included a site tour and finds display for pupils of Bedale School, plus community events during the work and involvement afterwards. Following the excavations, pupils from Mowbray School in Bedale enjoyed a talk and finds display as well as an outdoor finds processing session. Local and national archaeological societies and regional community groups also enjoyed talks and displays.

“Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Archaeology Group helped to process finds, including washing the many animal bones, fragments of pottery and other artefacts, and members of Bedale Archaeology and History Society sieved soil excavated from one of the large quarry pits at Aiskew to recover small artefacts and animal bones.”

Peter Rowe talks about the excavation and finds.

Copies of ‘Before Bedale’ can be picked up from libraries in Bedale, Northallerton, Caterick, Ripon and Leyburn as well as County Hall and the County record Office in Northalleton, Bedale Hall and Kiplin Hall.