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Wellwick Farm archaeology

A wealth of archaeology finds have been revealed by HS2 archaeological work at Wellwick Farm, near Wendover on the HS2 line of route.

Iron Age skeleton uncovered by excavation.
Skeleton of adult male at Wellwick Farm, uncovered by HS2 archaeological works.

Before we build the low carbon high speed railway between London and Birmingham, we are uncovering a wealth of archaeology that will enrich our cultural heritage.

Archaeologists working on the HS2 project in Buckinghamshire have discovered a skeleton believed to be a murder victim from the Iron Age. Other discoveries at the site span over 4,000 years of human history, including a circular timber monument resembling the layout of Stonehenge.

The section of the HS2 route is being prepared to build the Wendover Green Tunnel and the Wendover North Cutting. The archaeology programme is a central part of HS2’s ground preparation works for Phase One of the project – London to Birmingham. HS2, its contractors and supply chain are well underway with a programme of work, clearing sites, ahead of main construction.

Iron Age murder victim

During the excavation work at Wellwick Farm near Wendover, archaeologists discovered a skeleton of an adult male buried face down in a ditch with hands bound together under his pelvis. The unusual burial position suggests the Iron Age man may have been a victim of a murder or execution. Osteologists are currently examining the skeleton for further evidence of foul play. Dr. Rachel Wood, Project Archaeologist said:

The death of the Wellwick Farm man remains a mystery to us but there aren’t many ways you end up in a bottom of a ditch, face down, with your hands bound. We hope our osteologists will be able to shed more light on this potentially gruesome death.

High status burial

Archaeological excavation revealing a skeleton in a lead coffin.
Archaeological excavation revealing a skeleton in a lead coffin, horizontal view.
Aerial view of the excavation site with the burial in the middle.
1. High status burial in a lead-lined coffin. 2. The outer coffin was likely made of wood. 3. The wider context of the burial site at Wellwick Farm.

At Wellwick Farm, archaeologists believe the Bronze Age and Iron Age saw the addition of some domestic occupation with at least one roundhouse identified and possible structures such as animal pens and pits used for disposing food. During the Roman period, this occupation may have moved to the current location of Wendover but the Wellwick Farm site was still used for burials. In a square enclosure on the site, archaeologists discovered a skeleton in a coffin that was lined with lead, with the outer coffin likely made of wood. Archaeologists believe that the buried individual must have been someone of high status as they had the means to pay for such an expensive method of burial.

Circular timber monument

Aerial view on a large archaelogically excavated area revealing a circle of post holes about 65m in diameter.
An aerial view reveals the scale of the 65m diameter circular monument.

The archaeological works have revealed a wealth of archaeology with evidence of human activity dating from the Neolithic to the Medieval period, a time spanning around 4,000 years. The land to the west of Wendover seems to have been persistently used for ceremonial activity as archaeologists also uncovered a large circular monument of wooden posts 65 metres in diameter with features aligned with the Winter Solstice, similar to Stonehenge in Wiltshire.

Commenting on the archaeological work, Dr. Rachel Wood, Project Archaeologist said:

We already knew that Buckinghamshire is rich in archaeology but discovering a site showing human activity spanning 4,000 years came as a bit of a surprise to us. The large wooden ceremonial structure, the Roman lead burial and the mystery of the skeleton at Wellwick Farm helps bring alive the fact that people lived, worked and died in this area long before we came along.

Mike Court, HS2 Lead Archaeologist said:

Our discoveries will be shared with communities and the public through virtual lectures, open days and in an upcoming BBC archaeology documentary. The sheer scale of possible discoveries, the geographical span and the vast range of our history to be unearthed makes HS2’s archaeology programme a unique opportunity to tell the story of Buckinghamshire and Britain.

A gold coin, uninscribed, next to an ruler showing its size as about 1cm.
Also found at Wellwick Farm: uninscribed quarter gold stater coin from the mid 1st Century BC. Almost certainly minted in Britain.
Map of Wendover showing the HS2 line and the location of Wellwick Farm near it
Wellwick Farm excavations are on the HS2 line of route near Wendover. During the Roman period, the occupation of the area may have moved to the current location of Wendover but the Wellwick Farm site was still used for burials. The green segment of the HS2 route is the Wendover Green Tunnel.