Archaeologists excavating the HS2 site have illuminated the transformation of an Iron Age village in Northamptonshire into a thriving Roman trading hub nearly two millennia ago.

Fascinating findings emerged during the excavation near the village of Chipping Wardens, colloquially known as Blackgrounds due to the rich black soil prevalent in the area. Unearthed artifacts encompass cremation urns, gaming pieces, shackles, a snake-head brooch, and an impressive collection of over 300 Roman coins.

Evidence indicates that the settlement’s origins trace back to around 400 BC when it consisted of more than 30 roundhouses. However, a significant expansion occurred during the Roman era, roughly between 300-400 AD, marked by the introduction of new stone structures and roads. The village evolved into a bustling center of commerce, offering a vivid snapshot of life during this historical period.

        

Approximately 80 archaeologists, part of the HS2 high-speed rail project team, have dedicated a year to excavating Blackgrounds, one of over 100 sites scrutinized between London and Birmingham since 2018.

Considered by experts as ‘one of the most significant archaeological sites’ revealed during the controversial £100 billion train line project, the remnants of the Roman trading town unveil a rich historical tapestry. Before the construction of bridges, tunnels, tracks, and stations by HS2 workers, an ‘unprecedented’ amount of archaeological work is underway along the route. This meticulous approach aims to ensure that the secrets of Britain’s past are not buried beneath concrete.

HS2 Ltd, the state-funded body overseeing the project, asserts that this excavation work provides a ‘unique opportunity’ to narrate Britain’s story. Despite its historical importance, the construction of HS2 has sparked considerable controversy due to its impact on the destruction of historic buildings and natural landscapes.

The walls of a domestic building, captured in this image, have been unveiled during the excavation at the Blackgrounds Roman archaeological site. Archaeologists, employed by HS2 Ltd, have revealed one of the most significant archaeological sites on the project to date, situated near a small village in South Northamptonshire. This discovery offers a compelling glimpse into the architectural and domestic aspects of the Roman settlement, contributing to a deeper understanding of the historical context of the region.

This picture shows the remains of a Roman wall at the Blackgrounds excavation site. Evidence suggests that the settlement was established around 400 BC – during the Iron Age.

HS2’s released photo showcases a Roman lead die (on the left) and bone gaming pieces unearthed during the archaeological excavation at Blackgrounds.

Depicted is ornate Roman pottery uncovered at the site. Over the course of 12 months, a team of around 80 HS2 archaeologists dedicated their efforts to excavating this location.

Roman coins: The site, located just north of the village of Chipping Wardens in Northamptonshire, has yielded more than 300 Roman coins. In this photo released by HS2, a Roman female deity scale weight is revealed, uncovered during the archaeological excavation at Blackgrounds, named after the black soil found in the area.

Roman cremation urns, still shrouded in soil, provide a glimpse into the transformation of the Iron Age village into a prosperous Roman trading town, as deciphered by archaeologists.

Pictured is an intricately carved Roman snake-head brooch, showcasing detailed craftsmanship. Archaeologists were astonished when they uncovered evidence of the Iron Age settlement’s evolution into a prosperous Roman trading town.

Although the presence of such a significant archaeological site in the area has been known since the 18th century, recent geophysical surveys have unveiled the original Iron Age section of the site and artifacts from the Roman settlement.

James West, the site manager from the Museum of London Archaeology Headland Infrastructure, overseeing the excavation, expressed that the dig has exceeded all expectations. He emphasized the extraordinary nature of the well-preserved Roman road, measuring an impressive 32 feet (10 meters) in width, a size considered large even by Roman standards. According to West, the site has the potential to transform our understanding of the Roman landscape in the region and beyond.

Another image captures the Roman lead die surrounded by bone gaming pieces unearthed during the HS2 archaeological excavation. This tableau provides a visual insight into the gaming culture of the ancient Roman inhabitants at the site.

Depicted are Roman weaving accessories, offering a glimpse into the textile practices of the ancient inhabitants. Several archaeological sites are currently under exploration across Northamptonshire, including Blackgrounds, Edgcote battleground, and a deserted medieval village at Radstone.

 

In a photo released by HS2, numerous Roman artifacts are showcased, carefully marked and stored in bags and plastic containers during excavation work. This meticulous approach ensures the preservation and documentation of the archaeological finds during the exploration process.

A lead weight, molded in the form of a head, was discovered along the HS2 route and unveiled at the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) on January 10, 2022, in Northamptonshire.

Environmental Processor and Analyst Donna Brady examines dried samples of animal bone and charcoal from the HS2 route.

Claire, the Programmes Manager at MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology), holds a lead weight molded in the shape of a head, unearthed from the HS2 route.

Finds and Environmental Processor Rob Pearce cleans and separates the contents of the sample buckets taken from the route in a series of Siraf tanks.

MOLA’s Clare Finn explains the necessary drying process for the trays of samples from the HS2 route. Archaeologists working for HS2, the high-speed rail project, discovered artifacts at the Blackgrounds Roman-era trading settlement.

Urbs Roma coins from the reign of Emperor Constantine depict the imagery of Romulus and Remus, commemorating the founding of Rome.

A Roman pot is held by one of the site’s workers. The site’s origins trace back to the Iron Age when it was a village comprising over 30 roundhouses.

The width indicates that the settlement would have been very busy with carts simultaneously coming and going to load and unload goods – a ‘very active area’. The settlement’s wealth likely stemmed from trade, both from the nearby River Cherwell and via the Roman road.

The discovery of over 300 Roman coins indicates a significant volume of commerce passing through this area as the village evolved into a wealthy town.

Archaeologists found the settlement divided into domestic and industrial areas, with evidence of workshops, kilns, and well-preserved wells. In one part of the site, the earth is bright red, suggesting it might have been used for activities involving burning, such as bread-making, metalwork foundries, or a kiln.

Other artifacts found during the dig highlight the wealth of the inhabitants, such as glass vessels, highly decorative pottery, jewelry, and even traces of the mineral galena – a substance crushed and mixed with oil for use as makeup.

A particularly interesting discovery in the dig is half a set of shackles, similar to those recently found in an excavation in Rutland. Unlike those uncovered in Rutland, the shackles found at Blackgrounds are not associated with a burial but may suggest the presence of either criminal activity or slave labor.

Roman shackles, as pictured, were also uncovered, suggesting that criminal activity or slave labor played a role in the settlement.

 

 Unspecified decorative Roman artifacts. The history of Blackgrounds began in the Iron Age when it was a village consisting of over 30 roundhouses.

A pewter plate discovered at the site. In one part of the area, the bright red earth suggests it might have been used for activities involving burning, such as bread-making, foundries for metalwork, or a kiln.

The Blackgrounds site underwent a geophysical survey conducted by a team of archaeologists and was further evaluated through trial trenches, specifically small slip trenches.

Blackgrounds consists of both the Iron Age settlement, previously unknown until experts conducted geophysical surveys, and the Roman settlement. Researchers aimed to determine whether the Iron Age and Roman sites existed independently or if the Iron Age settlement persisted into the Roman period.

Evidence suggests the latter scenario, with the Iron Age settlement serving as a starting point for significant Roman operations.

“The opportunity to carefully examine a site such as Blackgrounds, and map out a long history of the site, brought to life through artifacts, building remains, and roads, has enabled us to provide a more in-depth understanding of what life was like in rural south Northamptonshire in the Iron and Roman Age,” said Mike Court, lead archaeologist for HS2.

The history of the site, spanning from the Iron Age to the Roman era, is featured in the new BBC Digging for Britain series, hosted by Professor Alice Roberts. The episode showcasing the Blackgrounds excavation is set to air on BBC Two on January 11 at 8 pm.

Before HS2 workers construct bridges, tunnels, tracks, and stations, an unprecedented amount of archaeological work is taking place along the route.

A discovered well at the Blackgrounds Roman archaeological site. Archaeologists working for HS2 Ltd have uncovered one of the most significant archaeological sites on the project to date.

The layout suggests the town was split into different areas, with foundations uncovered of buildings used for domestic purposes and more industrial practices.

Excavation work along the HS2 route provides a unique opportunity to tell the story of Britain, according to HS2 Ltd, the state-funded body responsible for delivering the line. However, the project has been controversial for its impact on historic buildings and natural landscapes, as it involves ripping up such structures and natural spots.

An aerial view of the well discovered at the Blackgrounds Roman archaeological site. The archaeologists found the settlement divided into domestic and industrial areas, with evidence of workshops, kilns, and well-preserved wells.

The history of the site, spanning from the Iron Age to the Roman era, is featured in the new BBC Digging for Britain series, hosted by Professor Alice Roberts.

Blackgrounds is one of over 100 archaeological sites that HS2 has examined since 2018 between London and Birmingham, collectively providing a detailed insight into the rich history of Britain.

The removed artifacts are being cleaned and analyzed by specialists from MOLA Headland Infrastructure, and the details of the buildings and layout of the settlement are being carefully mapped.

Roman wall showing signs of subsidence – when the ground beneath a building sinks, pulling the property’s foundations down with it.

Pictured is site manager James West from the Museum of London Archaeology Headland Infrastructure with the Roman well.

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