Can you dig it? Developing Our Archaeological Knowledge

In this series of blog posts Ellie Dewdney will be keeping you up to date with current issues that could affect Britain’s most special places and what the National Trust are doing to preserve these national treasures.

So it seems certain that there are going to be those who are worried about the archaeological impact of the HS2 line and, as the previous post discussed, they may have good reason to be concerned. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Here at the National Trust it is not out place to debate whether HS2 is needed and we are neither for nor against the project. But we are committed to championing the best result possible when it comes to HS2 and this includes how the archaeological impact is handled.

Hardwick Hall -One of our properties likely to be impacted by HS2.

Hardwick Hall -One of our properties likely to be impacted by HS2.

And a project of this scale does offer Britain a rare opportunity. Move over Cross Rail! When HS2 goes ahead it will be the largest archaeological dig that this country has ever seen. Although for many out there the concept of preserving archaeology in situ represents the ideal, this giant trench could not only offer us a wealth of discoveries but also knowledge.

The lines current route is covered with sites where historic treasures are thought to lie beneath the ground and which HS2 Ltd have promised to excavate before construction gets underway.

In fact Mike Farley, Vice president of the Bucks Archaeology Society, is of the opinion that the archaeological opportunities presented by the building of HS2 are something of a silver lining!

“It is a good opportunity. On the one hand we don’t want it (the line) but when and if it does happen here there will be the opportunity for the public to learn about the past.”

And Mike Farley has already identified some local sites that he is particularly eager to see uncovered. These include a Late Iron Age/ Romano-British Settlement in Locke’s Pitt that has already thrown up some prehistoric animal remains and a field south of Wendover whose surface finds boast musket balls, pottery, coins, mounts and buckles from a variety of periods. But he is particularly keen to see the former Roman Town (which lies below Fleet Marston) more thoroughly explored, which is hardly surprising since an intriguing lead sarcophagus has already been discovered in the area.

A view of Fleet Marston.

A view of Fleet Marston.

One could argue that it’s really only archaeologists that care about preserving archaeological finds/features in situ – there is certainly scope for suggesting that the majority of people gain more value and enjoyment from archaeology when discoveries are displayed and presented in a more accessible manner.

As touched upon in the previous posts, after excavation finds need to be handled appropriately and in such a way that benefits everybody. Despite the fact that Crossrail has come under some criticism, they have grasped this concept of accessibility and are committed to making their finds publicly available:

  • All significant artefacts are handed over to the Museum of London or the Natural History Museum whilst the archaeological team are tasked with creating detailed reports of their work.
The destination of many of Crossrail's finds.

The destination of many of Crossrail’s finds.

  • And Crossrail’s Bison to Bedlam Exhibition was a roaring success back in 2012. Put on to celebrate the half way stage of Crossrail’s archaeological programme, the free March exhibition was so popular that it was reopened for a second stint later in the year.
  • In the past Crossrail have also made sure to offer some more hands on interaction, organising school visits and public tours of excavation sites.
Members of the public lending a hand at an excavation.

Members of the public lending a hand at an excavation.

HS2 Ltd seems to have a similarly encouraging attitude when it comes to discussing their approach to archaeology. With Spokesman Ben Ruse describing HS2 as an “unmissable opportunity to discover what treasures lie in wait underneath the earth” and emphasizing the commitment to openness.

“As the investigation progresses we want to share the discoveries we make with local people, schools and community groups and encourage everyone to get excited about local archaeology with national and international importance.”

We feel that it’s important that HS2 is, where possible, used as a way to develop people’s knowledge of their own past and improve their understanding of historic places.



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