'Huge and significant Roman town' discovered buried under HS2 route

Archaeologists have discovered evidence of a huge Roman town dating back more than 2,000 years along the route of the HS2 railway.

The amazing discovery, which includes artefacts and more than 300 Roman coins, has been heralded as ‘one of the most significant archaeological sites’ uncovered along the high-speed train line.

An 80-strong team of archaeologists have been working on the site, which is in south Northamptonshire, for the past year.

The original site, known as Blackgrounds because of the soil found there, started life in the Iron Age as a village of about 30 roundhouses.

But archaeologists were left stunned when they came across evidence that the village had grown into a wealthy Roman trading town.

A 10m- (32ft-) wide Roman road runs through the site, suggesting the town would have been a hive of trading activity, boosted by its proximity to the River Cherwell.

And it’s not just infrastructure experts have found – there was also a treasure trove of artefacts such as glass vessels, decorative pottery, jewellery and even evidence of eye make-up.

More than 300 Roman coins have also been discovered indicating a ‘significant volume of commerce was passing through this area’.

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James West, from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) Headland Infrastructure, said the dig had ‘surpassed all expectations’.

He said: ‘This is certainly one of the most impressive sites MOLA Headland Infrastructure has discovered whilst working on the HS2 scheme.

‘A particular highlight for me has been understanding the emerging story of Blackgrounds, which we now know spans multiple time periods.

‘Uncovering such a well-preserved and large Roman road, as well as so many high-quality finds have been extraordinary and tells us so much about the people who lived here.’

Evidence suggests Blackgrounds became more prosperous during Roman times, with new stone buildings and roads added to the village.

Archaeologists think the town was split into different areas with evidence of homes as well as workshops, kilns, and several preserved wells.

In one area, the earth has been preserved with a fiery red colour, indicating it would have been used for activities involving burning, such as bread making, foundries for metalwork, or a pottery kiln.

Traces of the mineral galena, or lead sulphide, has also been found on the site – a substance that was crushed and mixed with oil for use as make-up.

James added: ‘The site really does have the potential to transform our understanding of the Roman landscape in the region and beyond.

‘A particularly interesting discovery in the dig has been half a set of shackles, similar to those recently found at an excavation in Rutland.

‘Unlike those uncovered in Rutland, the shackles found at Blackgrounds are not associated with a burial but may suggest the presence of either criminal activity or slave labour.’

Blackgrounds is one of over 100 archaeological sites that HS2 has examined since 2018 between London and Birmingham.

Last year two complete busts of a man and a woman, a head of a statue of a child and a glass jug dating back 2,000 years were found along the railway in Buckinghamshire.

Artefacts that have been recovered from Blackgrounds are being cleaned and analysed by specialists.

Meanwhile, details of the buildings and layout of the settlement are being carefully mapped.

Mike Court, lead archaeologist for HS2, said: ‘As we near the end of our archaeological field work between London and Birmingham, we have made some unprecedented discoveries, which we will continue to share with communities near our works.

‘The opportunity to carefully examine a site such as Blackgrounds, and map out a long history of the site, brought to life through artefacts, building remains and roads, has enabled us to provide a more in depth understanding of what life was like in rural South Northamptonshire in the Iron and Roman Age.’

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