Dozens of decapitated skeletons were among 425 bodies uncovered by HS2 archaeologists in a Roman cemetery during excavation works in southern England, Britain’s high-speed rail link revealed in press release.
Many of the 40 beheaded skeletons had their skulls either positioned between their legs or next to their feet, according to the statement.
The remains were uncovered by a team of about 50 archaeologists during excavation works at Fleet Marston, near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, along the route of the high-speed rail link, which is currently under construction.
The discovery will help archaeologists understand more about life in Roman Britain 2,000 years ago. According to archaeologists, one explanation for the beheadings is that these individuals could have been criminals or outcasts.
Beheadings were quite common elsewhere and seem to have been a normal practice, however, they were not a typical burial ritual during the late Roman period, HS2 noted.
Commenting on the excavations, Helen Wass, head of heritage at HS2 Ltd, stated: “All human remains uncovered will be treated with dignity, care, and respect and our discoveries will be shared with the community.”
In addition to the bodies discovered, the team also found more than 1,200 coins, indicating commercial and trade activities in the area. Other objects were also discovered, such as metal spoons and pins, as well as dice and bells, a possible indicator of gambling and religious activities.
The Romans ruled Britain from 43 AD to 410 AD.
Richard Brown, senior project manager for COPA JV that is working on behalf of HS2’s Enabling Works Contractor Fusion JV, said the discoveries are significant in terms of learning more about Roman towns and their population during that period.
“The excavation is significant in both enabling a clear characterization 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,” Browan insisted.
Fleet Marston is one of more than 100 archaeological sites which HS2 has studied since 2018 between London and Birmingham, HS2 said, adding that examining these sites provides “a detailed insight” into Britain’s rich history.
The recent discovery at Fleet Marston will be further studied and examined over the next few years in order to learn more about the lifestyles, habits and beliefs of inhabitants and towns during the Roman period, HS2 stated.