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UK’s largest archaeology programme crosses half-way point

By Ankeeta Munsi

UK’s largest archaeology programme crosses half-way point
  • Crossrail exhibition offers glimpse of London’s history including 55 million-year-old amber and skeleton from Bethlehem Hospital burial ground

  • Nearly 100 key discoveries from 10 sites on display this weekend 

The Crossrail archaeology programme has now reached its half-way point with a number of valuable discoveries made so far. To celebrate, Crossrail is hosting a public exhibition on Saturday 7 July from 10 am to 5pm at the Music Room, Grays Antiques, 26 South Molton Street, W1K 5LF.

The exhibition will display rare and priceless finds to provide a glimpse of life in London through the ages. Visitors will have an opportunity to interact with some of the artefacts and learn how archaeologists analyse the finds to determine their age.

Amongst the exciting discoveries on display is a skeleton from the St Bethlehem Hospital burial ground underneath Liverpool Street. The burial site was used between 1569 and the mid-18th Century for Bedlam’s patients and local residents. Trial archaeology excavations have already unveiled over 300 burials, many of which are just 1.5 metres below street level. 

Jay Carver, Crossrail’s lead archaeologist said: “Crossrail is undertaking the biggest archaeology project in the UK. Over the past few years we have worked in a range of challenging and constrained sites including busy London streets and abandoned wharves along the Thames. This exhibition consists of a selection of our oldest, rarest and most peculiar finds. It will show visitors how life has changed in the capital as well as helping people to understand how archaeologists plan and execute digs.”

The Crossrail archaeology programme began in 2009 with archaeologists beginning their investigations at Tottenham Court Road, where they excavated the former Crosse & Blackwell factory site.

Since then Crossrail has uncovered finds dating from pre-historic times to the industrial revolution including Roman artefacts and remnants of Britain’s industrial heritage.  Unique exhibits on display include medieval ceramic wig curlers, 17th Century gravestone markers and skates made from animal bone.

Crossrail archaeologists have also uncovered engineering workshops belonging to the historic Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company near Canning Town.  The Company played a significant part in Britain’s industrial history until its closure in 1912. It was the first shipyard in the world to produce iron ships. Unexpectedly, the excavations also revealed wreckage from a large clinker built boat believed to be from the 13th Century and likely to be an early Thames barge used for transporting goods.

A key discovery during the ground investigations has been extremely rare 55 million-year-old amber fragments at the Crossrail Canary Wharf station site.

Dr Ursula Lawrence, Crossrail’s geotechnical expert said: “It’s very rare to find amber in the UK geology. Most of the other pieces of amber come from below the chalk level, unlike this one which was found just 15 metres below the dock bed at Canary Wharf in the Upnor Formation of the Lambeth Group. This was a very unlikely place for such a find – equivalent to finding a large diamond on the beach.”

Gas bubbles from within the amber may offer scientists an opportunity to study environmental conditions from the time. The amber itself will be analysed to determine which kind of tree it came from to indicate the environment at the time.

Crossrail passes through the heart of London’s West End and along the north edge of the Roman and medieval city. The archaeology programme therefore expects to uncover further important and interesting remains.

Eastbourne Terrace at Paddington will be one of the next sites to be studied later this year. The team will also carry out excavations in Farringdon at Crossrail’s eastern ticket hall site located between Smithfield Market and Barbican station. Trial digs at this site have already confirmed an old river channel, and evidence of leather production under Smithfield Market.

At Moorgate, the archaeology team hopes to uncover further Roman remains from the city of Londinium. Another interesting feature near Blomfield Street is the River Walbrook, known to be a Roman canal.

Between 2013 and 2014 the Crossrail archaeologists will undertake the largest excavation on the project at Broadgate where the St Bethlehem Hospital burial grounds will be completely exposed and studied. Investigations have confirmed the presence of up to 4,000 complete skeletons at the site. The archaeologists will continue to dig deeper to see whether evidence of the Roman city survives at a lower level.

All items uncovered during Crossrail’s archaeological investigations will be donated to the Museum of London or to the Natural History Museum.

Ends

For further information contact the Crossrail Press Office on 020 3229 9552 or email [email protected]

Notes to editors

  • Exhibition: Bison to Bedlam - Crossrail's archaeology story so far…
  • Venue: The Music Room, Grays Antiques, 26 South Molton Lane, W1K 5LF
  • Date: Saturday 7 July, 2012
  • Time: 10am - 5pm
  • Nearest Tube: Bond Street

Talks will be given on the day by Crossrail contractors Museum of London Archaeology and Oxford Archaeology, in partnership with Ramboll. Talks will be held at 11am, 12 Noon, 2pm and 3pm.

For further information about Crossrail's archaeology programme visit the archaeology and heritage section.

About Crossrail:

The construction of Crossrail through the heart of London will result in one of the most extensive archaeological programmes ever undertaken in the UK.  Crossrail will manage over 20 worksites throughout the new railway’s central section and archaeological investigations will be carried out at each site ahead of main construction works to build the new central stations.

Crossrail will run 118 km from Maidenhead and Heathrow in the west, through new twin-bore 21 km tunnels under central London to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east. It will bring an additional 1.5 million people within 45 minutes commuting distance of London's key business districts.

When Crossrail opens it will increase London's rail-based transport network capacity by 10%, supporting regeneration across the capital, helping to secure London's position as a world leading financial centre, and cutting journey times across the city.