Ballast removal in the Crossrail tunnel, 2012
One of the largest construction projects in Europe has been going on beneath London's streets for over seven years. © Crossrail
The Tunnel exhibition at Museum of London Docklands told the story of the archaeological work undertaken as part of the Crossrail Project. The building of the Elizabeth line from Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east to Heathrow and Reading in the west has been one of the largest construction projects in Europe. It has been accompanied by a huge programme of archaeological work, undertaken under the supervision of Crossrail’s Project Archaeologist, Jay Carver. The archaeological aspect of the project has gone on for approximately 14 years in various forms, including over six years of excavation.
UK planning law requires some form of archaeological work if it is deemed likely that a construction project will disturb archaeologically significant layers. In London, it is hard to avoid areas of archaeological significance. Human habitation in the area dates back over 10,000 years and there has been an urban centre in the City of London for the last 2000 years (give or take a few hundred years from c. 450 to 850AD after Roman Londinium was abandoned).
With a project like Crossrail, which would tunnel right across London from east to west – and right through the middle of some of the most historically significant areas of the city – a well-structured and well-funded archaeological programme was essential. Having appointed a team of archaeologists, headed up by Jay, to supervise and oversee the programme, they began to research where the excavations should take place, working closely with Historic England. Crossrail then set about appointing archaeological contracting units to do the actual excavation.