Britain’s biggest dig

October 04, 2020

Archaeologists from MOLA Headland Infrastructure, a consortium between RSK company Headland Archaeology and MOLA, have appeared on the BBC Two documentary series Britain’s Biggest Dig. The four-part series sees Anthropologist Professor Alice Roberts and historian Dr Yasmin Khan go behind the scenes of the team’s HS2 excavations in London and Birmingham, which include the biggest-ever cemetery excavation in Britain.

In preparation for the new HS2 rail link, MOLA Headland has undertaken the archaeological investigations at St James’s burial ground, next to London Euston railway station, and Park Street burial ground, Birmingham. The excavations are providing a fascinating insight into the hidden history of imperial London and industrial Birmingham, and what life was like during the Industrial Revolution.

In the first instalment, which aired on 15 September, Alice Roberts followed the MOLA Headland team as they undertook the largest ever archaeological excavation and study of human remains from eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain. Over two years, more than 40,000 burials were archaeologically excavated at the St James’s burial site beside Euston station to make way for the new HS2 terminus. They have revealed the stories and mysteries of the forgotten fortunes of both rich and poor in Georgian London; these include the story of James Christie, founder of the world-renowned Christie’s auction house.

The second episode aired on 22 September and saw Alice and Yasmin delve deeper into the stories of St James’s burial ground and the dig’s conclusion, and introduce another MOLA Headland site further along the line at Park Street burial ground in Birmingham. The nineteenth-century burial ground, believed to be the largest collection of nineteenth-century burials outside of London, uncovers how Victorian Birmingham grew into the boom town of the Industrial Revolution.

You can catch up on all the episodes so far on BBC iPlayer.