Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

'Black death' skeletons unearthed

Carefully laid out skeletons thought to be from a 14th century burial ground have been discovered in London (Crossrail/PA)

More than a dozen skeletons, thought to be victims of the Black Death, have been unearthed in the City of London.

So far the skeletons of 13 adults have been found under Charterhouse Square in Farringdon during excavation work for the £14.8 billion Crossrail project.

Archaeologists made the discovery 8ft (2.4m) below the road that surrounds the gardens in the centre of the square. They believe there could be as many as 50,000 plague victims buried in the area.

Nick Elsden, from Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), says that further discoveries are likely. He added: "The short answer is we don't know just how many skeletons are out there."

Tests will be carried out on the skeletons but experts are linking the discovery with the Black Death as it is known that a burial ground for plague victims was opened in the Farringdon area.

But Mr Elsden was quick to reassure the public that there was no longer any health risk from the plague which killed over a quarter of the British population in 1348. He said: "It's not something that stays in the soil. You have to actually meet someone who has it in order to catch it."

Pottery dated up until 1350 found in the graves by the Crossrail team and the layout of the skeletons all point to them being plague victims. A similar skeleton formation was found in a Black Death burial site in nearby east Smithfield in the 1980s. The skeletons are being carefully excavated and taken to MOLA for testing.

Crossrail lead archaeologist Jay Carver said: "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 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."

Scientists are hoping to map the DNA signature of the plague virus and possibly contribute to the discussion regarding what virus caused the Black Death. It is also hoped that the research could help combat modern day diseases.

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