A MAJOR archaeological rescue dig revealing the largest stone bridge in Roman Britain is nearing its end.
Experts working on the summer excavation on the River Tyne, in Corbridge, have uncovered the most completely preserved construction of its type in the country.
The dig, carried out by archaeologists from Tyne and Wear Museums, revealed huge stone blocks, up to a ton in weight, and carved masonry, showing the scale and decoration of the bridge.
Backed by a £300,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and commissioned by English Heritage, the excavation has enabled locals to get involved and help in the project.
It was found that the course of the River Tyne has turned 45 degrees since the Roman period and it still poses a threat to the survival of the remains.
The team also discovered evidence of how a substantial portion of the masonry could be put back together, with stones in their original positions.
Detailed discussions are in progress to decide how a display could be created on the site, which would provide a rare opportunity to see the remains of a great work of classical architecture which has been invisible for centuries.
Keeper of archaeology at Tyne and Wear Museums, Margaret Snape, from Hexham, said: “The site will remain open throughout September, and through October, so the public can still come by and have a look.
“The digging is nearing its end, and we now have the results. The results have exceeded our expectations.
“It is really sensational, and the site looks absolutely wonderful.”
The bridge, which carried the main Roman road from London to Scotland, was built to proclaim the power of the Roman Empire and particularly the Imperial House.
A massive ramp, almost 12 metres wide, which would have carried the Roman Great North Road onto the bridge, was uncovered, as well as a 19 metre long retaining wall to protect the south-east side.
Fallen from the bridge superstructure is a huge decorated octagonal stone, thought to be the capital from a pillar or monumental feature which once marked the point where the road rose onto the bridge.
The evidence uncovered will allow the archaeologists to work out the original appearance of the bridge.
Keith Bartlett, Heritage Lottery Fund Regional Manager for the North East said: “HLF is dedicated to conserving our heritage and this project is leading the way in ensuring that our heritage is preserved to give everyone the opportunity to learn about, experience and enjoy it.
“It is also wonderful that this excavation has also allowed volunteers to get involved and experience the joy of discovering their heritage first hand.”