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AECOM archaeologist Dr Rachel Wood uncovers Anglo-Saxon find

AECOM archaeologist Dr Rachel Wood uncovers Anglo-Saxon find

 June 20, 2022

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AECOM archaeologist Dr Rachel Wood is among the HS2 archaeologists who have discovered a large Anglo-Saxon burial ground rich in grave goods in Wendover, Buckinghamshire in the United Kingdom. The uncovering of the Anglo-Saxon cemetery and astonishing objects illuminates the Dark Ages.

Rachel and her team have uncovered the burial site as part of their work for the HS2 Phase 1 Central Section, led by Fusion JV.

AECOM archaeologist leading the excavation

AECOM Archaeologist large Anglo-Saxon burial ground uncovered

An Anglo-Saxon burial ground with 138 graves found along the route of HS2 is one of the largest ever uncovered in the UK, say experts. A skeleton with a weapon embedded in it, jewellery and weapons were among the finds in Wendover, Buckinghamshire. Evidence of Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman activity was also found.

"The significance of this site for our historical and archaeological understanding of Anglo-Saxon Britain is huge," says Dr Rachel Wood Rachel, Lead Archaeologist for Fusion JV.

The site contained 141 regular burials and five cremation burials. The male skeleton was found with a sharp iron object embedded into its spine, which experts believe may have caused or factored into his death. Other items unearthed in the excavation last year include 89 brooches, more than 2,000 amber beads, 51 knives, 40 buckles and 15 spearheads.

A number of objects likely to have been used for grooming were also found, including toiletry sets with ear wax removers and toothpicks, tweezers, combs and even a cosmetic tube that might have been used as eyeliner or similar.

Uncovering a remarkable Anglo-Saxon burial ground

The discoveries have been filmed for historian Dan Snow's streaming service History Hit. Speaking on his podcast, presenter Dan Snow comments: "This stunning set of discoveries on the HS2 route can tell us more about how our predecessors lived, fought and ultimately died."

"It is one of the best and most revealing post Roman sites in the country and it was thrilling to join the team as they uncovered their wonderful finds," he adds.

The high speed rail line is a divisive project but away from the politics and debates, the programme is revealing secrets about Britain's past. This latest find is being described as rare and of national significance, being compared to that of Sutton Hoo, where an Anglo-Saxon ship was found in 1939 and thought to be the final resting place of the 7th Century King Raedwald. For some, even important archaeological discoveries still don't justify the construction of HS2. But for others, this is chance to explore periods of hidden history.

AECOM Archaeologist leads Anglo-Saxon discovery

A female body was found buried with an array of high quality goods such as a complete ornate glass bowl made of pale green glass, multiple rings made of copper alloy, a silver "zoomorphic" ring, brooches, discs, iron belt fittings and objects made of ivory. A team of about 30 field archaeologists from INFRA JV, working on behalf of HS2's contractor Fusion JV, completed field work at the site in 2021.

"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," comments Rachel.

She described it as a unique find due its size and scale. "We have 141 individuals here, that's quite a large cemetery for the time that we know about, and over 70 per cent of them have been found with objects which is really unusual," she says.

"Normally you might find one or two individuals in a small cemetery might have a comb with them or something like that and here we have so many individuals with multiple objects from weaponry to jewellery to grooming kits," explains Rachel.

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A pair of small square-headed brooches were also excavated - a miniature form of the great square-headed brooch, such as the famous Chessell Down Brooch on display at the British Museum. Two glass cone beakers that would have been used for drinking liquids such as wine were also found and suggest those buried might have had access to fine beverages from abroad.

"We are just at the beginning of our understanding of how the discoveries will improve our historical knowledge of Britain," says Mike Court, Lead Archaeologist for HS2 Ltd.

"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," he adds.

Rachel, the lead archaeologist and part of the excavation team, spoke with Dan Walker about the cultural and historical significance of the discovery.

"There's a huge body of work that went into us finding this site. Up and down the HS2 route everything has been subjected to non-intrusive surveys, so geophysical scanning that's like X-raying the ground," says Rachel.

"It was really astonishing, and it is a once in a career find to have found one of these types of graves, and we have 141 of them," she comments.

"The archaeology is built into the HS2 scheme, it's part of the planning process here in the UK, so it's all accounted for. The onsite works are finished and we have a huge amount of offsite lab work to do now," Rachel adds.

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