About 40 decapitated skeletons are among the 425 bodies exhumed by HS2 archaeologists from a large Roman cemetery discovered on the route of the high-speed railway.
The 50-person team discovered the remains at a cemetery in Fleet Marston near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, HS2 Ltd said.
About 10% were decapitated, with several instances where the head was placed between the legs or next to the feet.
All human remains discovered will be treated with dignityHelen Wass, HS2 Ltd
HS2 Ltd said it could be because those buried were ‘criminals or some sort of outcast’, although beheading was a ‘normal, albeit marginal’ part of burial at the end of the period Roman, around the end of 410 AD.
The cemetery is the largest of its kind in Buckinghamshire.
The bodies are stored for further analysis.
HS2 is not required to rebury them, unlike those exhumed from Christian lands such as St James’s Gardens, north London.
Archaeologists have discovered over 1,200 coins at Fleet Marston, indicating that it was an area of trade and commerce.
Household objects including spoons, pins and brooches have been found, while gambling dice and bells suggest that gambling and religious activities also occupied people’s time at the site.
The excavations were carried out over more than a year by Cotswold Archeology and Oxford Archeology (Copa), working on behalf of an HS2 contractor.
Copa senior project manager Richard Brown said: “The excavations are important both to allow a clear characterization of this Roman city but also a study of many of its inhabitants.
“With several new Roman settlement sites discovered during the HS2 works, it enhances and fills in the map of Roman Buckinghamshire.”
Fleet Marston is one of more than 100 archaeological sites examined by HS2 since 2018 on the route of the first phase of the railway between London and Birmingham.
Helen Wass, Heritage Manager at HS2 Ltd, said: “HS2’s archeology program has enabled us to learn more about our rich history in Britain.
“The large Fleet Marston Roman Cemetery will allow us to get a detailed look at the people of Fleet Marston and the wider Roman landscape of Britain.
“Any human remains discovered will be treated with dignity, care and respect and our findings will be shared with the community.”