A Roman skeleton with its head placed between the legs was uncovered during excavations at Fleet Marston.

About 40 decapitated skeletons unearthed by a group of archaeologists in southern England are thought to belong to “criminals” from the Roman period, researchers say.

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The skeletons were found when archaeologists on England’s High Speed 2 program (HS2) discovered a late Roman cemetery, thought to be the biggest of its kind in Buckinghamshire.

A team of 50 archaeologists had been working the site for more than a year, where they also found sections of a Roman town in the local village of Fleet Marston, alongside more than 1,200 coins, and gaming dice, bells, spoons, pins and brooches.

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The residential settlement was also likely used as a stopping place for soldiers and passersby traveling through Fleet Marston, en route to the Roman town of Alchester.

The cemetery contained about 425 burials in total, the rail company said in a statement.

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The number of burials, as well as the settlement itself, implied that a large number of people arrived at the town between the mid and late Roman period — potentially as a result of inflated agricultural production.One explanation for the use of decapitation as a burial practice could be that the skeletons were once “criminals or a type of outcast,” although such a process was a standard during the late Roman period, the statement added.

This Roman brooch was uncovered during archaeological excavations at Fleet Marston.

A complete Roman pot was uncovered during the dig.

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The cemetery mostly housed entombed burials because inhumation was common at the time, but there were also some cremation burials.

“The excavation is significant in both enabling a clear characterisation of this Roman town but also a study of many of its inhabitants,” said Richard Brown, a senior project manager at COPA JV, a consortium of archaeologists working on behalf of the project.

“Along with several new Roman settlement sites discovered during the HS2 works it enhances and populates the map of Roman Buckinghamshire,” Brown added.

Archaeologists at the HS2 excavation program have uncovered a trove of discoveries in Buckinghamshire in recent months, including a set of rare Roman statues, and a wooden figure thought to be 2,000 years old.

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