Murder, monuments, and material wealth uncovered during HS2 works

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Archaeological work carried out by HS2 archaeologists at Wellwick Farm, Buckinghamshire, has uncovered evidence of activity at the site spanning 4,000 years, from the Neolithic to the medieval period, and including both ceremonial and domestic uses.

A male skeleton found face-down in a ditch
It is believed that this Iron Age skeleton may represent a victim of either murder or execution. [Image: © HS2 Ltd]

Perhaps the most intriguing find was an Iron Age burial believed to represent the victim of a murder or execution. The skeleton of a man was found face-down in a ditch with his hands placed underneath his pelvis in a position which indicates that they were bound when he was buried. The individual’s remains were dated to the Iron Age using the stratigraphy of the ditch, which also contained pottery and other artefacts. Further research is under way but, given the position in which he was found, it appears that this man may have died a violent and undignified death.

The team also discovered evidence of a large Neolithic circular monument, 65m in diameter, made up of wooden posts. Excavation identified 146 post-holes in the outer ring, 39 in the inner ring (although it is believed that this circuit would have been complete originally), and five in the centre. The largest of the post-holes, next to the feature’s entrance, are c.0.95m in diameter. This monument is thought to be associated with ceremonial activity of some sort and appears to be aligned with the winter solstice, prompting comparisons with Stonehenge.

Evidence was also found for Bronze Age and Iron Age domestic occupation at the site. At least one roundhouse was identified, as well as structures that may have been animal pens, and pits for food waste.

By the Roman period, it seems that occupation may have moved to the current location of Wendover, and that Wellwick Farm was used as a burial site instead. The most important discovery dating to this period is an apparently high-status individual buried within a square enclosure. Their body had been placed inside a lead-lined coffin, which probably once had an outer coffin made of wood as well. Although no grave goods were found, this would have been an expensive mode of burial, and one that contrasts greatly with the unceremonious burial of the Iron Age man.

This news article appears in issue 366 of Current Archaeology. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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