Human remains were found by experts digging along the route of West Cumbria's new United Utilities water pipeline.

Archaeologists investigating medieval ruins along the route of the new 100km pipeline near Cockermouth found an ancient skeleton and new clues to the area's Roman past.

The discoveries were made in a field south of Bridekirk ahead of building work taking place and have just been revealed by United Utilities.

They came out of the blue for the archaeologists.

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They were only expecting to find the remains of a medieval grange, or farm, discovered during earlier works on the site.

But as their painstakingly dug out the foundations, they found a perfectly-preserved skeleton laid carefully among the rubble in the floor, along with the footprint of another unknown structure.

They also found coins, pottery sherds, evidence of an oven or kiln, and pieces of specialised Roman heating tiles, which were used in the construction of under-floor heating systems in prestigious Roman buildings, known as hypocausts.

Phil Mann of CFA Archaeology said: "Literally as we took the grass off we exposed the foundations of the medieval building, but what we didn't expect to find underneath were the foundations for a very unusual large Roman structure containing the remains of a kiln or oven with evidence of burning still present.

"Buried under some backfill at the corner of the medieval building we found the remains of a skeleton laid out.

"Usually a grave cut can be seen during excavation, but here there was no evidence of one suggesting the body may have been put into the rubble of the Roman building during the medieval period."

There were initial worries the skeleton had been the victim of ancient foul play.

But after being sensitively exhumed, it was sent for specialist osteoarchaeological analysis, which revealed no signs of a violent death.

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It was likely his death was natural, with the analysis indicating a man aged 35 to 40 suffering from serious degenerative joint disease, which may have contributed to his death.

"We don't know what happened to the man or why he was buried there as he was," said Mr Mann.

"Perhaps he was a member of grange staff who had an association with this building. It could have been old age that killed him. In those days people did not live as long as they do now."

After months of detailed analysis, one possible explanation of the find is that the large second or third century Roman structure may have been mass-producing tiles for prestige buildings for the nearby Roman settlement and fort at Papcastle, before falling into disuse and its stones being re-used in new buildings.

The medieval building was much more recent, at somewhere between 600 and 800 years old, but there is little indication of what it was used for.

Mr Mann believes it was most likely an outbuilding of a larger farmstead, possibly linked to a monastery in Yorkshire.

He said :"The Roman building is a very exciting and unusual find. You don't usually find such large Roman buildings outside the site of a Roman town or a military complex. It's one of the only ones known in this area of Cumbria.

"It's possibly because Papcastle was built close to the River Derwent, which is on gravels, that they had to come up here to find the clay deposits they needed for tiles."

It's not the first time that archaeology unearthed on the route of a United Utilities pipeline has re-written Cumbria's history books.

In 2008, engineers building a wastewater pipe near Brougham, Penrith, found the remains of a previously-unknown first century Roman settlement.

John Hilton, project director on the West Cumbria Supplies Scheme, said engineers had worked closely with county archaeology staff to try to avoid potential finds along the route altogether and as a result of what was found in Bridekirk had moved the planned route of the pipeline to protect it.

"We're doing everything we can to prevent damage to our buried history, including completing one of the longest tunnels in Europe at the moment under Castlerigg Stone Circle near Keswick to avoid disturbing any Neolithic remains.

"It's great that this site at Bridekirk has come to light and that experts have had the chance to study it as a result of our work. The new light that it's shedding on Cumbria's Roman and medieval past is one of the many positive legacies we can leave behind us.

"When we've finished the landscape over this site and the entire pipeline will be re-instated so that, once again, there'll be no evidence of it on the surface and Cumbria's unique environment will return to its previous condition."

Mr Mann added: "If it hadn't been for United Utilities' project we might never have known about the Roman activity at this site.

"It's really rare we get the chance to excavate sites like these unless there is a large infrastructure project which gives us the opportunity.

"To find the remains of a Roman building of this size, with what we found there and potential evidence of industry, it's unlike anything I've done in my 20 year career. We already know a lot about Papcastle and the Roman settlement there but this opens up some more potentially very interesting research questions."

Once published, the report and any artefacts will be lodged with Cumbria's County Archaeology Service in Carlisle along with other recommendations for future research.

One research is complete, the skeleton will be given a new burial place, probably in a local graveyard, where it can continue to rest in peace.