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AECOM lead archaeologist Dr. Rachel Wood discovers ruins

AECOM lead archaeologist Dr. Rachel Wood discovers ruins

 October 12, 2022

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AECOM employs impressive women who make important contributions to the world. 

AECOM Lead Archeologist, Dr Rachel Wood, was working on a section of the UK’s HS2 route, where she made a fascinating discovery of Roman ruins.

AECOM women get award-winning results 

Archeological digs often take place far away from the public gaze. However, archeologists working on a section of the UK’s High Speed Two route decided to take a different approach – with award-winning results. Dr Rachel Wood helped tell the story of St Mary’s.

The site of St Mary’s Church in Stoke Mandeville is of special interest to archeologists. The church, which lies to the south of the village and was built around 1080AD, had a long life serving the community until a new church was constructed in the village, and it fell into disrepair. 

The question of why the church had been built so far away from the village had endured. Had the village had moved slightly over time? Or had the church been the centre of a manorial estate?

The construction of the HS2 Phase 1 Central line provided an opportunity to archeologically excavate the site and its landscape to answer these questions, and more.

“Public engagement programmes are usually conducted through offsite talks and exhibitions. However, right from the start both myself and Dr Lily Hawker-Yates from L-P Archaeology realised that St Mary’s was the ideal location to set up a field museum as there was plenty of space, and the location was well known to villagers and walkers,” says Dr Rachel Wood.

“We knew that it could be done safely, and – unusual as this approach currently is – we knew the public value it would bring,” she says.

Discovering historically-important features 

Much to the surprise of the team there were extensive surviving archeological features beneath the church.

In an unexpected twist, the team found remains of a Roman mausoleum, and it was among the rubble of this building that the three astounding stone busts were discovered. Specialists believe they are funerary monuments depicting a Roman family who may have once lived in the area. The detail on the busts is breathtaking in its complexity.

“It was so exciting to be able to share our discoveries with the public during the open weekends, and incredible that the final Roman finds – the culmination of an extensive body of archaeological work at the site – have attracted so much interest,” says Dr Rachel Wood.

“Personally, the engagement at St Mary’s really shows the value that archeology can add to a scheme – not only helping visitors to see current development as part of continuous landscape change, but also because we have helped create a lasting, treasured legacy for both the community at Stoke Mandeville, and the nation.”

AECOM women get media coverage 

Pictures of Dr Rachel Wood holding a beautifully carved female head appeared in major media outlets from The Guardian and The Washington Post to the BBC Breakfast Show’s famous red sofa.

Read more about Dr Rachel Wood and her fabulous discovery.

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