London: Engineers working on a rail project in London are wearing two hats these days—those of construction worker and archaeologist – after discovering about 20 ancient skulls and gold coins in the sediment of a historic river channel deep beneath the city.
Tunnelers discovered the Roman skulls, along with Roman pottery, gold coins while building a utilities tunnel underneath the Liverpool Street station site for Crossrail, the project developers announced.
And because the skulls are up to six meters (just shy of 20 feet) below ground, the archaeology work is being left to the construction workers for safety reasons.
“This is an unexpected and fascinating discovery that reveals another piece in the jigsaw of London’s history,” said lead archaeologist Jay Carver.
Clusters of Skulls
This isn’t the first discovery of skulls in the River Walbrook bed, Carter notes. Early historians suggest they are those of people killed during the Boudicca rebellion against the Romans, he said.
Throughout London’s history, Roman skulls have been found along the Thames tributary, and many speculated that they belong to those decapitated by Queen Boudicca’s rebels in the 1st Century AD.
However, the skulls are now believed to be from a Roman burial site 50 meters up the river from the Liverpool Street station worksite.
“Their location in the Roman layer indicates they were possibly washed down river during the Roman period,” Carver says.
The skulls were located in clusters, suggesting that they had been washed out of the burial ground and caught in a bend in the river.
The skulls were found below the Bedlam burial ground established in the 16th century. Three thousand skeletons will be removed from the location next year during an archaeological excavation.
The workers also found wooden medieval structures thought to be from the walls of the Bedlam burial ground.
The Museum of London Archaeology, contracted by Crossrail’s, will analyze the discovery in hopes of learning more about the age, sex and diet of the people.
Since the Crossrail project started in 2009, more than 10,000 archaelogy items have been discovered across 40 construction sites. The findings represent more than 55 million years of London’s history, according to Crossrail Limited.
Crossrail is Europe’s largest infrastructure project and is delivering the UK’s largest archaeology program.
Funding for Crossrail totals £14.8 billion (about $23.9 billion USD). The route will pass through 38 stations, increasing London’s rail-based transport network capacity by 10 percent.
Crossrail Limited is a wholly owned subsidiary of Transport for London; Crossrail is jointly sponsored by the Department for Transport and Transport for London.
Crossrail is scheduled to open in central London in 2018.