Ancient Roman Trading Settlement Unearthed 80 Miles From London

Researchers discover a Roman road, coins, jewelry and evidence of makeup at a dig site near a railway project

two stone fragments of faces
Some of the ancient Roman decorative pottery pieces uncovered at the archaeological site in England. HS2

Archaeologists have unearthed a large Roman trading settlement while working on a railway project in Northamptonshire, England, reports Adela Suliman of the Washington Post. The site contains more than 30 roundhouses, other stone buildings, wells, a 30-foot-wide road, coins, and jewelry, per Evening Standard’s Emily Davies.

For the past year, around 80 archaeologists hired by High Speed Two Limited (HS2 Ltd), a publicly funded government company in charge of the rail project, have been excavating near the village of Chipping Warden, 80 miles northwest of London. The site is one of more than 100 fields that have been examined along the HS2 route from London to Birmingham since construction began in 2018, reports Aisha Rimi for the Independent.

“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,” says James West, site manager for the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) who headed the excavation, in a statement.

West describes the road as “a Roman dual carriageway,” indicating the village had developed into a major trading center with significant volume of commerce moving through the area, reports Harriet Sherwood of the Guardian. Most Roman roads in England were 12 to 15 feet wide, he says.

“At its height, there would have been hundreds of people living in the town,” West tells the Guardian. “It was a very significant settlement.”

The location of the settlement, named Blackgrounds by researchers, after its dark-colored soil, has been well known since the 18th century, per the Washington Post.

a pile of rusted ancient coins with Roman markings
Archaeologists found 300 coins at the dig site of what once was a major Roman trading center in England. HS2

A small rudimentary Iron Age village of about 30 homes formed at the site around 400 B.C.E.  and then later expanded around the time of the Roman invasion in 43 C.E. Excavations have revealed that the village continued to grow during Roman occupation until 410 C.E., adding roads and buildings, per the Guardian.

Researchers believe the settlement’s prosperity was likely the result of trade, as indicated by the 300 Roman coins as well as jewelry and glass dug up at the site. The team also found traces of galena, a mineral that was crushed and mixed with oil to create makeup; a half set of shackles, suggesting slavery or criminal activity was present; and evidence of possible breadmaking or metalwork.

“At its peak during the Roman age, Blackgrounds would have been a bustling and busy area, shown though the evidence of workshops, kilns, and several beautifully preserved wells,” says the statement.

man in bright orange safety vest standing at stone well at dig site
Archaeologist James West of MOLA stands next to a well discovered at a ancient Roman settlement in Northamptonshire, England. HS2

“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,” says lead archaeologist Mike Court in the statement.

Per the Guardian, in the past three years, more than 1,000 archaeologists have been working sites near the railway route between London and West Midlands. In October, researchers found Roman statues at a medieval church in Buckinghamshire, and in 2019, the team exhumed more than 50,000 skeletons at a burial site near the Euston station in London.

HS2 states the archaeological digs have not prevented the high-speed rail project from being constructed, reports the Washington Post. Officials say advance planning and surveying have helped to keep the work moving while avoiding disruption at the historic sites.