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Work On New Railway Line Digs Up London History

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The 118-kilometer (73-mile) Crossrail line is Britain’s biggest construction project and the largest archaeological dig in London for decades. In the city’s busy business core, archaeologists have struck pay dirt, uncovering everything from a chunk of Roman road to dozens of 2,000-year-old horseshoes, some golden 16th-century bling – and the bones of long-dead Londoners.

One afternoon, archaeologists were unearthing newly discovered bones in a pit beside Liverpool Street rail and subway station, while living city-dwellers scuttled by, oblivious, a few feet away. The remains belong to a few of the 20,000 people interred in a burial ground established in the 16th century.

“Everyone’s been running around in Liverpool Street for years and not thinking that they’ve been walking around on bodies from one of the densest burial grounds in London,” said Nick Elsden, a Museum of London archaeologist helping to oversee excavations that go along with the work on the Crossrail line.

The 2,000-year history of London goes deep – 5 to 6 meters (16 to 20 feet) deep, the distance between today’s street level and sidewalks in Roman times. Crossrail is providing archaeologists with a chance to dig down through those centuries – and even beyond, to prehistoric times.

“This site is a rare, perhaps unprecedented opportunity,” Elsden said as he watched museum staff gently brush dirt from newly found bones and a skull in a hole that will soon house a maintenance shaft. “This is a major roadway outside one of London’s busiest railway stations. You don’t get to dig that up normally.”

The 14.8 billion pound ($23 billion) railway, due to open in 2018, will run across London from west to east, with a central 21 kilometer (13 mile) section underground. That has meant tunneling beneath some of the city’s oldest, most densely populated sections.

Alongside tunneling work – advancing by 100 meters (330 feet) a week and due to be finished next year – more than 100 archaeologists have been involved in excavations at 40 sites over the past four years.

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Posted by FanningCommunications on Sep 3rd, 2013 and filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response by filling following comment form or trackback to this entry from your site

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