The HS2 high-speed rail link project is an ongoing momentum infrastructure project aiming to connect London to the North-West by high-speed rail lines. With the project looking toward the future, it is also revealing secrets of the past. More than 1,000 archaeologists have been employed to excavate over 60 sites and they have recently made an exciting discovery of national significance in Wendover, Buckinghamshire: 141 Anglo Saxon burial sites dating back to the 5th and 6th century.
The sites are rich in high-quality grave goods, which indicates they are likely the resting places of wealthy people of the Anglo-Saxon community. The discovery will help uncover the gaps in the historical and archaeological record and contribute to the understanding of how people in Anglo-Saxon Britain lived their lives.
There was also evidence of Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Roman activity, which indicates that the site was used for a long period of time. But what was most significant was the Anglo Saxon burial ground containing 138 graves, with 141 inhumation burials and 5 cremation burials – one of the largest ever found in Britain. A team of over 30 INFRA JV field archaeologists working on behalf of HS2’s Enabling Works Contractor, Fusion JV completed the work in 2021.
“As we near the end of our archaeology fieldwork on Phase One of HS2, we are just at the beginning of our understanding of how the discoveries will improve our historical knowledge of Britain.” Mike Court, Lead Archaeologist for HS2 Ltd said in a statement. “The archaeological finds made at this site in Wendover will not only be of interest to the local community but are of national importance, providing a valuable insight into life in Anglo-Saxon Britain.”
Men, women, and children were found at the site – it is very rare to find such a large amount of individuals in a cemetery. Almost all of the individuals were buried with fantastically decorated brooches. Other findings include over 2,000 beads, 89 brooches, 40 buckles, 51 knives, 15 spearheads, and seven shield bosses.
One female high-status individual was discovered with a vast array of goods, including an ornate glass bowl thought to be a Roman-era heirloom, a silver "zoomorphic" ring, multiple rings made of copper alloy, iron belt fittings, and objects made of ivory.
It was noted that the goods buried with each individual were tailored to each person, which was probably relevant to the mourners at the grave site. Some grooming items were found, like ear wax removers and a cosmetic tube that could have been used as a container for eyeliner or something similar.
“This significance of this site for our historical and archaeological understanding of Anglo-Saxon Britain is huge. It is not a site I would ever have anticipated finding – to have found one of these burials would have been astonishing, so to have found so many is quite unbelievable.” Rachel Wood, lead archaeologist for Fusion JV, said.
“The proximity of the date of this cemetery to the end of the Roman period is particularly exciting, especially as it is a period we know comparatively little about. The material objects will tell us so much about the people who lived during this period, as will the people themselves.”
One skeleton, of a 17-24-year-old male, had a sharp iron object embedded into its spine, which may have been the cause of an unfortunate and violent death. It is thought that the weapon was stabbed in the front of the individual before embedding into the spine. This individual also had blue staining on his collarbone from a brooch that was placed there.
Over the next few years, there will be more assessments and analyses of the pieces, which will hopefully provide more insight into the Anglo-Saxon world.