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HS2 archaeologists exhume bodies and discover artefacts on digs

By Andrew Turton | Birmingham | Nostalgia | Published:

Digs are taking place across Birmingham and Staffordshire ahead of major HS2 work

A time capsule, dated 24 April 1884, found under the foundation stone of the north wing at the National Temperance Hospital in London

Archaeologists are investigating 10,000 years of British history along the line of the new High Speed rail route in what they say is Europe's largest dig.

Experts from the HS2 project have begun work on the programme to excavate sites along the 150-mile route from London to the West Midlands, the company said.

Neolithic tools, medieval pottery and Victorian time capsules have already been discovered.

In total, more than a thousand archaeologists are set to explore more than 60 separate sites, from prehistoric and Roman settlements to those from the Industrial Revolution and the Second World War.

An archaeologist excavating a human skeleton in Birmingham

Mark Thurston, HS2 chief executive, said: "Before we bore the tunnels, lay the tracks and build the stations, an unprecedented amount of archaeological research is now taking place between London and Birmingham.

"This is the largest archaeological exploration ever in Britain, employing a record number of skilled archaeologists and heritage specialists from across the UK and beyond."

Archaeological sites being investigated along the route include a prehistoric hunter-gatherer site on the outskirts of London, a Roman British town in Fleet Marston, Aylesbury, a 1,000-year-old demolished medieval church and burial ground in Buckinghamshire and a WW2 bombing decoy in Lichfield.

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Volunteers in London recording a gravestone before it is removed ahead of the construction of HS2

HS2 said all artefacts and human remains would be treated with dignity, care and respect, and a four-part documentary on the history of Britain that is exposed by the project will air on the BBC in 2019/2020.

Patrick Holland, BBC Two controller, said: "This is a major series following this unprecedented archaeological project.

"The HS2 digs promise to reveal secrets throughout a vast timeline of British history and I am delighted that BBC Two will be following the journey."

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An archaeologist examining a coffin plate at St James's burial ground in London ahead of the construction of HS2

Tom McDonald, head of commissioning at the BBC's Natural History and Specialist Factual unit, added: "It's thrilling to be there from the very start of what is unquestionably one of the most significant archaeological endeavours in British history.

"It promises to make us re-interrogate what we think we know about British history and give us an extraordinary and privileged insight into the past."

Duncan Wilson, chief executive of government heritage body Historic England said: "With the building of HS2 comes a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve our understanding of how people have shaped England's landscapes over thousands of years, from the first prehistoric farmers through Roman and Saxon and Viking incomers to the more recent past."

Andrew Turton

By Andrew Turton
Digital Journalist

Digital journalist based at the Express & Star's head office in Wolverhampton. Interested in breaking news and social media. Get in touch on Twitter @aturton_star or andrew.turton@expressandstar.co.uk

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