CURRENT ARCHAEOLOGY 113
I was sorry to hear recently of the death of Peter Scott. I met him when he was digging the Roman site at Piercebridge in Co. Durham (CA 40 and 55). He was a news paper proprietor who owned a string of local newspapers in Lan cashire where he had introduced the new technology sufficiently successfully to enable him to retire early and devote himself to archae ology. He gave me some very good advice when he told me that 1 should work harder on the Letters page of Current Archaeology. Let ters pages are not always as easy to prepare as might appear; but Let ters are read, and if you enjoy our Letters' Page, thank Peter Scott for his good advice.
Peter Scott's most famous discovery was what appeared to be a bridge abuttment situated on dry land, 100 yards downstream from the traditional site of the Roman bridge. It was difficult to explain, but he suggested that the original Roman bridge had been swept away and that the river had then changed its course, thus necessitating the new bridge.
A different interpretation has recently been put forward by
Raymond Selkirk. Ray is another amateur archaeologist who is a retired air line pilot: though we bear the same name, we are not related! He argued that the bridge had always been in its traditional position as indeed is confirmed by air photographs showing the roads approaching it. He points out that there is no way by which the river could have scoured out a new channel 4 metres deep in hard rock in the course of less than 2,000 years. Last summer he has been getting some further evidence.
"Last year," he writes "I recruited two expert divers, Bob Middlemas and Rolfe Mitchinson and asked them to search the river bed at Piercebridge. Not only did they find the remains of the Roman Dere Street bridge, they found pottery and garbage thrown from the bridge. This was still where it had fallen between boulders on the riverbed. They also found hundreds of votive offerings, including coins, brooches, rings and figurines. The Roman pottery spans the whole 400 year occupation and the coins range from 70 to 350. The latest find is a Saxon cross headed brooch (type C2) recovered from amongst Roman offerings in the centre of the river. This suggests that the bridge must still have been intact at the date of the brooch (c.450 - 600)".
Nevertheless even if we accept that the Roman bridge was unmoved, there still remains the problem of the abuttments excavated by Peter Scott. Ray Selkirk explains that these may have formed an overspill for an adjacent dam across the river placed there in order to raise the level of the river in order to make it navigable. The Medieval millstream, he argues, was originally a Roman barge canal.
The trouble, however, is that there is no sign of what must have been a fairly massive dam. "I have often been asked" he writes "where has the massive dam gone? The answer of course is that it is in the same place as the stonework from the Dere Street bridge and the fort and vicus - all reused in the cottages and the buildings of the village". Nevertheless, I still find myself wondering that since the foundations of the bridge still survive under water and since the slipway for the excess water still survives at the side with its ashlar masonry still intact, why have all traces of the dam disappeared? The Piercebridge formula still remains a mystery.
Left. Model of the proposed reconstruction. Traces have been found of the bridge foundations in the background, and also of the overspill on the left, but no trace of the dam has been found.
Opposite. Some of the finds made by divers adjacent to the bridge.
Photos: Raymond Selkirk