Archaeologists working in central London have discovered a fourteenth-century burial ground that might contain victims of the Black Death. Thirteen skeletons have been uncovered lying in two carefully laid out rows on the edge of Charterhouse Square at Farringdon, and are believed to be up to 660 years old.
Historical records reference a burial ground in the Farringdon area that opened during the Black Death Plague in 1348. The limited written records suggest up to 50,000 people may have been buried in less than three years in the hastily established cemetery, with the burial ground used up until the 1500s.
Lead archaeologist Jay Carver explained, “This is a highly significant discovery and at the moment we are left with many questions that we hope to answer. We will be undertaking scientific tests on the skeletons over the coming months to establish their cause of death, whether they were Plague victims from the 14th Century or later London residents, how old they were and perhaps evidence of who they were.”
The archaeological work is being done as part of the Crossrail project, which is creating high-speed rail link with 37 stations across London. During the past two weeks, Crossrail’s archaeologists uncovered 13 skeletons 2.5 metres below the road that surrounds the gardens in Charterhouse Square.
Carver adds, “at this early stage, the depth of burials, the pottery found with the skeletons and the way the skeletons have been set out, all point towards this being part of the 14th Century emergency burial ground.”
The graves have been laid out in a similar formation as skeletons discovered in a Black Plague burial site in east Smithfield in the 1980s.
The skeletons are being carefully excavated and taken to the Museum of London Archaeology for laboratory testing. The scientists are hoping to map the DNA signature of the Plague bacteria and possibly contribute to the discussion regarding what caused the Black Death. The bones may also be radio carbon dated to try and establish the burial dates.
Despite significant development in the Farringdon area over the centuries, the burial ground, described in historical records as “no man’s land”, has never been located.
The Crossrail archaeology programme began in 2009 and has uncovered finds dating from pre-historic times to the industrial revolution including Roman artefacts and remnants of Britain’s industrial heritage. Exhibitions have already been hosted in London to showcase many of the historical finds.
Source: Crossrail Project
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