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Video | HS2 archaeological dig unearths 6,500 skeletons

19 September 2019 | By Neil Gerrard

Archaeologists working on the HS2 Curzon Street station site in Birmingham have completed the excavation of a 19th century burial ground, unearthing 6,500 skeletons in the process.

The 12-month dig involved 70 archaeologists who excavated the human remains from the site where the new station is being built.

Park Street burial ground was opened in 1810 as an overflow cemetery for St Martin-in-the-Bullring and remained open for 63 years, closing to public burials in 1873.

Image: Brick Vaults in Park Street

Archaeologists are now beginning to examine the skeletons in closer detail, alongside artefacts discovered within the burial ground, including figurines, coins, toys and necklaces. Name plates have been found with a small number of the people buried at the site, and the team will combine research of historical documents, such as parish records and wills, with analysis of the skeletons, to develop biographies of these individuals. The skeletons will then be reburied in consecrated ground.

The archaeological work at the Curzon Street site was carried out by MOLA Headland Infrastructure archaeologists and osteologists (experts in studying human remains), LM (Laing O’Rourke and J Murphy & Sons) and the Design Joint Venture DJV (WSP and Ramboll). 

Image: Cross from Park Street

Work on site now moves on to ground remediation, utilities diversion and test piling for the foundation of the HS2 Curzon Street station.

Mike Lyons, HS2 West Midlands programme director said: “Birmingham is at the heart of the HS2 network and we’re proud to have reached this first major milestone in the construction of Curzon Street station.

“Across Birmingham and the West Midlands, we’re making significant progress building Britain’s new high-speed railway. Freeing up space across the existing rail network to run more local trains, HS2 will give passengers thousands of extra seats every day, and take cars and lorries off our busy roads.

“We already know that Birmingham played a pivotal role in the Industrial Revolution and HS2’s archaeology programme will allow us to tell the story of the skilled workers who fuelled it.

“As part of our commitment to being a good neighbour, we’ve teamed up with the National Trust’s Heritage Open Days where we will be sharing with the local community our discoveries and insights from the site and what we’ve learned so far.”

Image: 'Fish tail' coffin

Claire Cogar, lead archaeologist from MOLA Headland, said: “The careful and fascinating excavation of Park Street burial ground is telling us a great deal of the effects of life in 19th-century Birmingham on the population. By analysing the archaeological remains, we hope to build a picture of the lives of the people who built Birmingham and made the city what it is today, from the diseases they suffered and what they ate, to where they came from. Our initial findings have already identified evidence of diseases including scurvy and rickets. 

“We have also found interesting objects placed into burials. One burial contained a bone-handled knife, another had a figurine and others contained dinner plates. These finds provide insights into the types of burial rituals, traditions and practices of the 19th-century.”

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