THE industrial heritage of Yorkshire is renowned throughout the world, although the focus has often been on the boom in manufacturing and trade during the Victorian era.
However, archaeologists have discovered what they believe is one of the earliest examples of an "industrial estate" in the region, which dates back to the Roman period and provides a glimpse into how the needs of military garrisons were served 2,000 years ago.
Archaeology Excavations carried out as part of a £318m motorway upgrade of the A1 in North Yorkshire have given experts a rare opportunity to investigate a Roman site devoted to industrial activity.
The site is linked to a known imperial fort at Healam Bridge, near Dishforth, which was built about 2,000 years ago.
A major feature of the industrial complex was a water-powered flour mill used to grind grain and produce food for the garrison and other units travelling along the Roman road of Dere Street, the modern A1.
The adjacent buildings, which are thought to have been occupied up until the 4th century AD, may also have been a supply centre for a wider area.
English Heritage's inspector of ancient monuments in North Yorkshire, Neil Redfern, said: "The Roman remains at Healam Bridge have illustrated the importance of this site on Dere Street and given us an insight into industrial processes which had not previously been recognised or understood at the site.
"The time span of the remains uncovered illustrates how the site developed from a frontier fort and settlement to a more settled site with strong local economic role relating to the presence of mills along the banks of the beck.
"The complexity and depth of deposits were unexpected and the archaeology excavation team has dealt with them very professionally."
Artefacts uncovered on the A1 include animal bones, pottery, coins, metalwork and brooches, while 14 human cremations were found in individual pits, along with the well-preserved skeleton of a horse underneath a building.
The animal is thought to have been slaughtered as a sacrifice to the gods to bring the building good luck.
The cultural heritage team leader for contractors Carillion Morgan Sindall, Blaise Vyner, said: "We know a lot about Roman forts, which have been extensively studied, but to excavate an industrial area with a mill is really exciting.
"We hope it can tell us more about how such military outposts catered for their needs, as self-sufficiency would have been important. The findings show how the route has served people throughout the different periods."
The industrial area which has been discovered during the year-long archaeological dig comprised a series of large timber buildings, mostly on the north side of a beck, which powered the mill.
It is thought the site would have supplied the fort with goods and provisions – probably processing meat and other food, as well as flour, and could have developed into a settlement in its own right.
Very little is known about the Roman fort itself, which is now a scheduled monument and only came to light as a result of geophysical surveys carried out in the 1990s ahead of the A1's planned upgrading.
The line of the new road was adjusted to avoid the main site.
The Highways Agency's project manager, Gary Frost, said: "With the A1, we knew we were delivering this essential road improvement scheme in an area rich with history, but even so, the findings made were far more than expected.
"They uncovered a hidden world, showing how the Romans sustained the fort and the surrounding area."
The archaeological excavations started in July last year and were completed this summer as part of the multi-million-pound scheme to upgrade the A1 to a three-lane motorway between Dishforth and Leeming.