Created on: March 17, 2013 Last Updated: March 18, 2013
In recent weeks, engineers working on a multi-billion project in rail project in London uncovered more than a dozen skeletons lined up in "neat little rows." Experts say the remains belong to 14th-century victims of the Black Death.
According to the Telegraph, the skeletons were found during excavation of an area in Charterhouse Square in Farringdon for the £15 billion Crossrail Project. The Black Death had swept through Europe and killed an estimated 1/3 of the population. In Britain alone, it is believed approximately 1.5 million Britons died during the plague.
In all, 14 skeletons were found about eight feet (2.4 meters) underneath the road. However, it is believed there may be tens of thousands more located in the vicinity of the current rail project. Historical accounts indicate that Black Death victims were buried in emergency pits. The Telegraph reported this find aligns with a 1598 survey by John Stow that suggests the remains of 50,000 bodies may be nearby, with 100,000 others in the city.
Previously, no evidence to support these documents indicating a huge burial area had ever been discovered, until now. NPR reported 700-year-old pottery was also found at the burial site.
Modern technology will be able to help provide more information. At this time the Museum of London Archaeology will test for DNA remnants and the scientists hope to learn more about the devastating Plague that swept through Europe so many years ago.
According to The Manchester Evening News, Jay Carver, Crossrail's lead archaeologist said, "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 residents, how old they were and perhaps evidence of who they were. However, at this early stage... all points towards this being part of the 14th century emergency burial ground."
A follow-up report by the Telegraph said experts would use radio carbon dating to determine when the bodies were buried and then attempt to "map the plague bacteria".
“It is a fascinating discovery,” says Royal Holloway’s Professor Justin Champion, a specialist in the history of epidemics. “Nowadays when the skeletons have been dug up we can do so much more. It could be a huge advancement to know more about the Great Plague. We still don’t know enough about how it is passed between human beings."
Champion also suggested that there are probably many more bodies that had been afflicted with the Black Death buried underneath London.
"In some of the poorest areas outside the city walls, such as Southwark and Clerkenwell, people would just drop dead in the street. With a lot of London churches you can see the churchyard is above street level – that is because of the number of bodies underneath," Champion said.
The Black Death, or also known as the Bubonic Plague, is not completely gone. Every year a few people are afflicted, including a Colorado girl, aged 7, last year.
Experts say the unearthed skeletons are not a threat to the public, saying the infectious bacteria would have died out centuries ago. In order to become sick, a person would have to meet another alive and carrying the disease.
Learn more about this author, Leigh Goessl.
Click here to send this author comments or questions.
Below are the top articles rated and ranked by Helium members on:
Scientists plan to test skeletons of Black Death victims unearthed at dig site
Cast your vote!
Click for your side.