Engineers with the skull

Our engineers and those from contractor Balfour Beatty got more than they bargained for earlier this week. The team were looking for a leaking water pipe in Huntingdon when they unearthed part of a medieval skeleton.

The initial discovery of part of a skull took place on Monday, with more bones unearthed on Wednesday when work to fix the leak continued under the watchful gaze of an archaeologist.

It is believed the body was buried here around 600 years ago when this part of Huntingdon would have been a church graveyard. Many of the bodies buried would have been disturbed in the past during construction of Huntingdon's Ring Road, making it surprising the skull and other parts of remains were not discovered before now.

James Ball, small works manager for Anglian Water, received a call from engineers at about 1pm to tell him about the discovery. He said: “It’s not everyday I get called by engineers to say they’ve discovered a human skull, it’s certainly an unusual one. We normally get calls about animal bones, but this is my first human.  

“We’re experts in water pipes not human bodies, but from what we’re told the police and archaeologist think this would have been here for a few hundred years. When they built the ring road they would have had to dig fairly deep but they wouldn’t dig as deep for a side road, so it remained hidden until today.”

Parts of the skeleton found included the crown of the skull, an eye socket and a large toe bone. What was believed to be a shoulder was also found although this was left in the excavation as was not obstructing or in danger of being damaged by the work.   

Robin Clare, Team Leader, and Aaron Read, Labourer, were the Balfour Beatty operatives who made the discovery. Robin said: “I’ve been working in utilities for 13 years now and this is the most unusual thing I’ve found. I did some work in the grounds of Peterborough Cathedral a few years back and even that only turned up 300 year-old pottery, so a 600-700 year-old skull definitely tops that.  

“Whenever we’re digging to a water main the most important thing we think about is other utilities. The idea of uncovering human remains is not something we really think about, especially on a residential street. Even as we dug around it we thought it was a duct or another buried pipe. It took a while for us to realise that it was a skull.”

The leaky pipe has been fully repaired and the remains have been reburied.