Archaeologists excavating a farm in Buckinghamshire, England, have discovered a Roman burial, a circular Neolithic monument made of timber and the remains of a probable Iron Age murder victim, according to a statement.
The team unearthed the finds while conducting surveys ahead of construction of HS2, a high-speed railway set to connect much of Great Britain. Work along the planned railway’s path has uncovered many facets of British history. As BBC News reports, these latest discoveries offer evidence of thousands of years of activity.
“We already knew that Buckinghamshire is rich in archaeology but discovering a site showing human activity spanning 4,000 years came as a bit of a surprise to us,” says archaeologist Rachel Wood in the statement. “The large wooden ceremonial structure, the Roman lead burial and the mystery of the skeleton at Wellwick Farm helps bring alive the fact that people lived, worked and died in this area long before we came along.”
The Iron Age skeleton—found facedown with its hands bound together near the waist— is a peculiar case. Wood points out that “there aren’t many ways you end up” in that situation; the researchers suspect the man was either the victim of murder or execution. The team’s osteologists, or experts who study bones and skeletons, plan to conduct additional research to learn more about the man’s fate.
Excavations also yielded an unmarked gold coin dated to around the first century B.C., reports George Dvorsky for Gizmodo.
Further west, archaeologists uncovered a ring of timbers measuring more than 200 feet across. Per the statement, the structure was likely ceremonial. Similarly to Stonehenge, its layout appears to line up with the winter solstice.
On the farm, researchers found signs of a roundhouse, animal pens and waste pits dating to the Bronze and Iron Ages, according to Gizmodo. The people who once used these later moved to what is now Wendover but continued to use the farm for burials. One grave identified by the researchers featured an expensive, lead-lined coffin indicative of its owner’s high-status.
The discoveries are the latest in a years-long archaeological survey that spans over 60 sites and ten millennia of British history, wrote Meilan Solly for Smithsonian magazine in 2018, when the HS2 project was announced. Though the railway was initially scheduled for completion in 2026, the COVID-19 pandemic, among other factors, has delayed work significantly.
In addition to the latest finds, the project has identified a prehistoric hunter-gatherer site outside of London, a razed Anglo-Saxon church and what might be the world’s oldest railway roundhouse.