I could never understand why on earth British archaeologists use bulldozers in their digs... :-(
It was built to repel invaders from Roman Britain and for centuries withstood the vagaries of time.
But some of the buried artefacts at Caister, near Yarmouth, have met their match after archaeologists mistakenly used a mechanical digger to uncover the fort's secrets. Norfolk Archaeology Unit (NAU) was commissioned to carry out a dig last year ahead of plans to build houses on a garden bordering the north-east corner of the fort at Uplands Avenue.
A nationally important site, the fort was one of 12 built by the Romans stetching to the south coast, with the others in Norfolk being at Burgh Castle and Brancaster.
The area in question was covered by a thin layer of tarmac, yet beneath that it was straight down into undisturbed Roman deposits allowing a fresh picture to be built up of an area stretching from the fort's outer defences.
But when David Gurney, principal archaeologist at Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service, went out to check on the progress of the work, he was horrified to see a 15m long by 1m trench dug out by a digger instead of being excavated by hand.
“On a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of damage to Norfolk's archaeology, this is a 10,” he said. “This was the first chance to dig a trench across the defences at Caister fort since the 1960s. It was a huge opportunity.
“The archaeology in that area has been destroyed,” he added. “We lost the opportunity to go through the different layers very carefully and recover the pottery and objects that would have helped us review the dating of the fort defences.
“There's a lot of archaeological work taking place all the time so there's bound to be the odd lapse. It's very unfortunate that it took place on such an important site.
“They made quite a serious mistake. There have been long discussions with the contractor and they are fully aware of the mistake they have made. Measures have been put in place to make sure it doesn't happen again.”
The incident happened last June, but the mistake has only now been unearthed after lying deep inside a council report due for discussion on Monday.
Jayne Bown, archaeology unit manager at NPS property consultants, which took over the running of the unit in 2005, said an approved plan had been produced and followed but there was a misunderstanding about how the dig was to be carried out.
“Once work was under way it became clear that there was a divergence of professional opinion on the scope and detail of the fieldwork required,” she said. “A wide-ranging discussion ensued and procedures have since been thoroughly reviewed.”
“NAU Archaeology is a successful organisation with clients across the country and we pride ourselves on working to high professional standards. The misunder-standing in this case was a very rare occurrence and we have acted promptly to reduce the likelihood of it ever recurring in the future.”