HS2 archaeologists track development of Iron Age village into Roman trading town

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Archaeologists working on the HS2 route have discovered how an Iron Age village in Northamptonshire developed into a wealthy Roman trading town.

Evidence found during a dig of the site near the village of Chipping Warden has shown how the settlement, believed to have been established in about 400 BC when it was made up of more than 30 roundhouses, expanded during the Roman era in the years around 300-400 AD, with new stone buildings and new roads emerging.

The site, known as Blackgrounds after the black soil found there, is one of more than 100 to have been examined by archaeologists between London and Birmingham since 2018, with experts saying it turned out to be “one of the most impressive”.

The 10-metre wide road also indicated that the settlement would have been very busy with traffic.

The archaeologists found the settlement divided into domestic and industrial areas, with evidence of workshops, kilns and well-preserved wells.

Archaeologists excavating the site
Archaeologists excavating the site (HS2/PA)

Other artefacts found during the dig highlighted the wealth of the inhabitants, such as glass vessels, highly decorative pottery, jewellery and even traces of the mineral galena – a substance that was crushed and mixed with oil to be used as make-up.

Half a set of shackles was also discovered, suggesting criminal activity or slave labour in the area.

Site manager James West, from MOLA Headland Infrastructure, which has been excavating the site, said: “This is certainly one of the most impressive sites MOLA Headland Infrastructure has discovered whilst working on the HS2 scheme.

Roman coins uncovered during the excavation
Roman coins uncovered during the excavation (HS2/PA)

“Uncovering such a well-preserved and large Roman road, as well as so many high quality finds, has been extraordinary and tells us so much about the people who lived here.

“The site really does have the potential to transform our understanding of the Roman landscape in the region and beyond.”

Mike Court, lead archaeologist for HS2, added: “The opportunity to carefully examine a site such as Blackgrounds, and map out a long history of the site, brought to life through artefacts, 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.”

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