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Archaeologists discover ‘astonishing’ Roman statues on HS2 route

Critics said more rare finds may have been bulldozed over

Jane Dalton
Friday 29 October 2021 12:37 BST
Archaeologists find incredible Roman artefacts when working on HS2 dig
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HS2 bosses have revealed the discovery of “astonishing” Roman statues dug up along the route – to the anger of environmentalists who claim that historic sites are being destroyed.

Archaeologists dug up two complete figures of what appear to be a man and a woman, along with the head of a child, at an abandoned medieval church in Stoke Mandeville, Buckinghamshire.

The find, described as a “once in a lifetime” discovery, also includes a hexagonal glass Roman jug, large pieces of which were still intact despite its having been in the ground for what is thought to be more than 1,000 years.

But opponents of the £106bn high-speed railway, which when completed will run from London to Crewe and Manchester, have accused the company of public-relations spin, or “greywashing”, in announcing the discoveries as other finds are “bulldozed over”.

They pointed out that a 2013 HS2 environmental survey had identified 969 archaeological sites on the route of phase one alone – the London to Birmingham leg – but that the company had decided to investigate only 60 of them.

HS2 says it carried out extensive surveys along the route to identify and characterise buried archaeological information, and that it works with Historic England and local authority experts.

Joe Rukin, of the Stop HS2 campaign group, told The Independent: “It was inevitable there would be archaeological finds, but the crime is the number of sites known to exist that are not being properly investigated and are being bulldozed over without proper investigations, even in areas where it’s known there are lost villages or Roman settlements.

“Due to the sheer scale of HS2 there simply aren’t enough archaeologists in the country to properly investigate every site of interest.”

“These finds don’t make the project worthwhile. Would you call it ‘greywashing’?

“They are doing what they do best – PR – which spins what is a massive negative – all the sites they’re destroying – and trying to turn it into a positive.”

Mr Rukin said dozens of historic sites along the route were being wrecked “without a hint of proper archaeological investigations”, and that the finds would never now be uncovered.

Rachel Wood, lead archaeologist for HS2 contractor Fusion JV, said the Stoke Mandeville artefacts were “hugely significant because they’re really rare finds in the UK”.

“To find one stone head or one set of shoulders would be really astonishing, but we have two complete heads and shoulders as well as a third head,” she said.

“They’re even more significant to us archaeologically because they’ve actually helped change our understanding of the site here before the medieval church was built.”

The discoveries at the old St Mary’s Church have been sent to a laboratory for specialist cleaning and analysis.

Dr Wood added: “They are so significant and so remarkable that we would certainly hope that they will end up on display for the local community to see.”

Experts believe the location was used as a Roman mausoleum before the Norman church was built.

Around 3,000 bodies, dating from the 11th century up to 1908, have been dug up at the church and will be reburied at a new site.

Three statues were uncovered at the site (PA)

An HS2 spokesperson said: “Throughout our unprecedented archaeology programme, we have treated sites of archaeological interest with care.

“We have shared some of our findings made so far and look forward to continuing to tell the stories of Britain’s past.”

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