A few weeks ago, while I was zapping, I saw a curious program on Focus channel about some skulls found during the building work for a new train line.
London’s underground is rich in archaeological treasures and interesting discoveries were made during the excavations for the construction of the Crossrail, the project for a new city railway line , the “Elizabeth Line” that will be open in the first half of 2022 .
In 2013 construction workers digging tunnels for the new railway found a pile of stacked skulls – 20, to be precise – dating back to 300-400 AD, when the city was part of the Roman Empire. The skulls were found 3 meters underground at Liverpool Street, in one of the bends of the Walbrook, an ancient river that once divided the east and west of the city, then covered in the 15th century. The residual slush of the stream has preserved the bones to us. The finds were found not far from a burial site, the Bedlam cemetery, which is anything but Roman: it dates back to the 17th century. According to the archaeologists following the excavations, it is possible that the bodies – all whole – were in a nearby burial site, and that the heads detached from the rest of the skeleton due to the current, rolling along the river to pile up, all in the same place. Moreover, the dating of the skulls corresponds to the period in which the Romans did not cremate the dead, but buried them. Roman laws required the dead to rest outside the walls, “but it is unusual to find so many concentrated in one area other than a cemetery,” commented Nicholas Elsden of the London Archaeological Museum. “We are now trying to understand how the Romans viewed the dead. It is difficult to imagine that a modern cemetery is allowed to be lapped by the waters of a river “. One possibility is that there was not much dry land available in the area at that time. Further analyzes will ascertain the sex and age of the bodies, their origin and – from the dental residues – what they ate, as well as the real reason for their death.
Some speculations would indicate that they died beheaded in the course of the rebellion led against the Romans from Boudicca, queen of the Iceni tribe in eastern England.
This was only one of the latest series of discoveries on the line of works for the new railway: excavations have unearthed several corpses dating back to the Black Death, the plague of the mid-1300s, and the wooden remains of a Bronze Age transport network.