Yet another significant archaeological find has been made during excavation work for the HS2 (High Speed 2) railway line. According to the archaeologists working on the project, the extensive Anglo-Saxon burial ground they unearthed is a “once in a lifetime discovery”, comprising 141 burials, numerous beads, jewellery, swords and other personal items. Of particular fascination to archaeologists is the discovery of ear wax removers, not something one might expect to unearth in a burial ground.
Over the last few years, the construction of the HS2 railway line has revealed numerous archaeological sites of historical significance. Earlier this year, the remains of a Roman trading town was discovered between Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire, and a Roman figure carved from wood appeared in Buckinghamshire. The HS2 project has made archaeology a focus of their construction. Their website details how, “before we build bridges, tunnels, tracks and stations, the largest archaeology programme ever untaken in the UK is taking place along the line of the route”, and that their work “will reveal over 10,000 years of British history” in the process.
This latest discovery has turned up an extensive array of evidence about the lives of the Anglo-Saxons of the fifth and sixth centuries in this area, including wine glasses, jewellery and beauty items, such as ear wax removers and tweezers. Historian Dan Snow said that, “it is one of the best and most revealing post-Roman sites in the country”. Dr Rachel Wood, the lead archaeologist of Fusion JV, the company that carried out the archaeology work for HS2, commented that, “it’s quite rare to find an Anglo-Saxon cemetery”. The items buried with the remains seems to be of particular fascination, as Wood explained: “almost all the individuals were buried with brooches, and they’re fantastically decorated. We’ve also had swords, spear heads, decorated pottery – a lot of unique objects. It’s certainly a once-in-a-lifetime discovery for an archaeologist. There are men, women and children, and there are a lot of them—the most interesting for me is that they are so close to the end of the Roman period. The fifth and sixth centuries are not ones we know a lot about.”
It is hoped that the items found on this new dig will answer new questions about the Anglo-Saxons of this period. There has been a theory that Anglo-Saxons led a crude lifestyle prior to the arrival of Augustine of Canterbury in AD 597, a monk who is considered to be the founder of the English Church and missionary who bought Christianity to England. Wood commented that, “there’s been a thought that the culture of the Saxons took a turn for the better when they became Christian”. The discovery of this range of sophisticated objects suggests that past scholars may have underestimated how refined and advanced the Anglo-Saxons were prior to the arrival of Christianity. It is not entirely clear why these personal beauty items may have been buried with the deceased, but hopefully this new archaeological find will answer some unknown questions about the Anglo-Saxon period.