A team of archaeologists excavating a once 'bustling' Roman town made the horrifying discovery of up to 40 decapitated skeletons.
The corpses were found with the head placed between the legs or next to the feet, among 425 burials in a large 2,000-year-old cemetery in Fleet Marston, near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.
Experts believe the headless skeletons could be criminals or outcasts.
However, decapitation was sometimes performed as a burial rite during the late Roman period.
Richard Brown, senior project manager for archaeology firm COPA who are excavating the site along the HS2 train line, said: “The excavation is significant in both enabling a clear characterisation of this Roman town but also a study of many of its inhabitants.
"Along with several new Roman settlement sites discovered during the HS2 works it enhances and populates the map of Roman Buckinghamshire.”
The site, which included some cremated remains, was discovered by archaeologists working on the HS2 train line over the last year.
Fleet Marston is one of over 100 archaeological sites that HS2 has examined since 2018 between London and Birmingham.
Helen Wass, head of heritage at HS2, said: “The HS2 archaeology programme has enabled us to learn more about our rich history in Britain.
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"The large Roman cemetery at Fleet Marston will enable us to gain a detailed insight into the residents of Fleet Marston and the wider Roman Britain landscape.
“All human remains uncovered will be treated with dignity, care and respect and our discoveries will be shared with the community.
"HS2’s archaeology programme seeks to engage with all communities both locally and nationally to share the information and knowledge gained as well as leaving a lasting archival and skills legacy.”
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Other evidence of a "bustling Roman town" was found, including 1,200 coins, spoons, gambling dice and brooches.
The settlement, which sits alongside a Roman road, is believed to have been used for commercial and industrial activity, including a key staging post for travellers and soldiers passing through Fleet Marston on their way to and from the garrison at Roman Alchester, near Bicester, Oxfordshire.
Experts will carry out a post-excavation analysis on the skeletons to find out their origins, diet, family links, lifestyles and beliefs.
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