Dozens of beheaded bodies have been discovered along the new HS2 railway route in the UK, as well as more than 400 skeletons.
HS2 is a large-scale development project hoping to create high-speed rail links between London and major cities in the Midlands and north of England, such as Birmingham and Manchester. However, its been marred in controversy with complaints from eco-campaigners and Labour politicians, as well as the Leeds line being scrapped.
While scouring the route for anything of historical importance that could impede the railway’s progress, a 50-strong team of archaeologists stumbled on thousands of bones, with several bodies having been decapitated and their skulls placed between their legs or next to their feet.
Around 50 bodies among the 425 skeletons exhumed by the team had been beheaded. HS2 Ltd said it’s likely they were ‘criminals or a type of outcast’, and decapitation was a ‘normal, albeit marginal’ part of burial during the late Roman period, dating back to AD410, The Guardian reports.
The cemetery, located in Fleet Marston near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, is the largest of its kind across the county. Archaeologists also found more than 1,200 coins, indicating the region may have been an area of trade and commerce, in addition to spoons, pins, brooches and other domestic objects. The discovery of gaming dice and bells also suggested past gambling and religious activity in the area.
Unlike bodies exhumed in Christian grounds such as St James’s Gardens in north London, HS2 isn’t required to rebury the skeletons. Instead, they will be held in storage for further analysis.
Richard Brown, senior project manager for Cotswold Archaeology and Oxford Archaeology, said, ‘The excavation is significant in both enabling a clear characterisation of this Roman town but also a study of many of its inhabitants.
‘Along with several new Roman settlement sites discovered during the HS2 works it enhances and populates the map of Roman Buckinghamshire.’
Helen Wass, HS2 Ltd’s head of heritage, also said, ‘The HS2 archaeology programme has enabled us to learn more about our rich history in Britain. The large Roman cemetery at Fleet Marston will enable us to gain a detailed insight into the residents of Fleet Marston and the wider Roman Britain landscape.
‘All human remains uncovered will be treated with dignity, care and respect and our discoveries will be shared with the community.’
More than 100 archaeological sites have been examined and excavated by HS2 since 2018 during preparations for the first phrase of the railway between London and Birmingham.