A team of archaeologists from OA North, monitored by English Heritage and Cumbria County Council's Historic Environment Services, excavated sites on behalf of Birse Civils Ltd along the route of the Carlisle Northern Development Relief Road (CNDR), running to the north and west of Carlisle.
As part of the scheme a new bridge was constructed over the River Eden, and Scheduled Monument Consent was granted to excavate a poorly preserved segment of Hadrian's Wall, where it coincided with the planned bridge abutment. This provided a rare opportunity to address some of the many questions that yet remain unanswered regarding the western end of the Wall and, despite the poor state of its preservation, excavations have yielded excellent results, revealing the lowest courses of the stone wall, constructed on top of the original turf wall. Below the turf wall were earlier field boundary ditches that demonstrate the enclosure of the landscape, either by the Romans, who had already been in the region for fifty years by this time, or by the local tribes-people prior to the Roman’s arrival.
On the floodplain on the northern banks of the River Eden, prehistoric remains were unearthed that date back to the first time the landscape was occupied, about 9,000 – 7,000 years ago, providing evidence for some of the earliest Cumbrians. These nomadic hunter-gatherers probably settled there in seasonal camps, perhaps to take advantage of marine and riverine resources, such as migrating salmon. A massive assemblage of struck stone tools – including many projectile points – associated with hearths on the banks of a relict channel of the Eden, show where people made their homes. Preserved wood in the channel bears the evidence of ancient woodworking, but also of other mammals, which shared this habitat. Tree trunks had been gnawed by beavers and dragged together by them to form lodges; it is even possible that the hunter-gatherers were first attracted to a clearing in the wildwood caused by the beavers, who can fell large areas of woodland in a very short time. Claw marks on another log seem much too big for a beaver and, tantalisingly, may hint at bears roaming the area.
Large circular cropmarks 150m upslope of these excavations suggest that two henge-type monuments mark this location on the edge of the floodplain as a once important place of congregation and ceremony for the first farming communities in the region, about 5,000 – 6,000 years ago. Elsewhere, it has been shown that, in the rituals enacted at these monuments and in their surroundings, people often made reference to, and drew a contrast between, wetland and dryland places. This may explain the unusual finds within the upper sequence of waterlogged channel deposits where, among the remains of a rudimentary wooden platform, a decorated pottery vessel, several pristine arrowheads and four stone axes were recovered, characteristic of the Neolithic period. At the same level in the channel were two very unusual wooden artefacts that have been radiocarbon-dated to the fourth millennium BC: three-pronged wooden 'tridents', measuring in excess of 2m in length, carefully carved by stone tools from single green oak planks. Similar artefacts were recovered during the 19th century at Ehenside Tarn, near Ravenglass, on the Cumbrian coast, and Armagh, in Northern Ireland, but their function is something of a mystery. It has been suggested that they may have been for agriculture or fishing, although none of the explanations proffered so far seem satisfactory.
More more detailed information, images, and news on what is currently going on please visit the CNDR website.