Carlisle Northern Development Route Archaeological works

The construction of the CNDR has recently provided a reminder of how unexpected archaeological discoveries can cause significant issues for construction projects.

Major works, such as excavating a section of foundation of Hadrian's Wall, were identified long before fieldwork began as potential sites of interest. However, a hugely significant discovery during the course of the fieldwork also had implications for the construction of the new road.

A small plot of land on the floodplain of the River Eden revealed an extensive lithic scatter (i.e. a surface scatter of cultural artefacts and debris consisting of lithic (stone) tools and chipped stone debris). This was found next to a sequence of channels containing worked wood. The location of the site was highly problematic for the construction works, as access to the river was required early in the construction programme to allow the building of a new bridge over the River Eden. Owing to the importance of the site, however, sufficient time was allowed within the overall construction programme for the archaeological works to be undertaken.

The excavation of the find was also challenging from an archaeological viewpoint, as 270,000 litres of soil and other material had to be sieved. The excavation recovered around 268,000 struck lithics and associated hearths, stakeholes and pits. The find is late Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) in character, and much greater in size than any other of this date excavated in Cumbria. There are, therefore, few sites for comparison, highlighting further the importance of being able to excavate a site of this nature under modern archaeological conditions.

Other finds from the site include grooved ware, flint arrowheads and polished stone axes. Two wooden 'tridents' were also recovered, measuring over 2m in length and each carved from a single piece of oak. They have been radiocarbon-dated to the fourth millennium B.C. Similar artefacts were recovered from Ehenside Tarn, Cumbria and Armagh, Northern Ireland, during the nineteenth century, but their function remains elusive.

The challenges caused by this unexpected discovery could have resulted in an unsatisfactory outcome archaeologically. Instead, a dedicated archaeological team from Oxford Archaeology, monitored by English Heritage and Cumbria County Council's Heritage Environment Services, excavated the extraordinary site within the tight constraints of the construction programme.

View archaeological photographs.