London Crossrail Project Unearths Black Death Burial Pit

black death“Bring out your dead!”

If you lived in London in 1348-50, you’d hear that call a lot. All of Europe was swept with the Black Death, a virulent plague that killed an estimated one-third of the population. London, like other congested urban areas, got hit hard.

Now archaeologists working in London have uncovered a mass grave of Black Death victims, a Crossrail press release reports. Digging ahead of the planned London Crossrail transportation project, the team discovered a mass grave of 13 bodies at Charterhouse Square, an area known as a burial ground during the plague. Pottery from the mid-14th century found at the site helps confirm the identification.

The bodies were laid out neatly in rows, hinting that the burial ground was from the early stages of the Black Death. When the plague was going full force, bodies were simply dumped into giant pits.

Now archaeologists are examining the bones to learn more about how the people lived, including diet, physical health and work-related wear and tear on the body. They also hope to find surviving DNA from the plague to give scientists a better idea of how it developed. Researchers stress that the plague bacteria cannot live for long in the soil and the excavation poses no health risk.

This is only the latest in a series of finds by the Crossrail workers. Earlier we reported on their discovery of a 3,500-year-old Bronze Age trackway. The Crossrail project is a high-speed train system that will link 37 stations along 73 miles of track through London. It’s due to open in 2018.

Sadly, the 14th century plague was only the first wave of a persistent contagion. The Black Death returned to London several times, the worst being in 1665-6, when it killed 100,000 Londoners.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

London Construction Reveals Medieval Graves, Bronze Age Road

London, medieval, funeralLondon is built on layers of its own past. Occasionally they poke through to the present, like the old Roman walls and the Temple of Mithras. Now two current construction projects have revealed glimpses of the city’s previous epochs.

Work to build a leisure center at Elephant and Castle has uncovered some 500 medieval skeletons, the London Evening Standard reports. They were interred in 25 crypts. It appears they were relocated into the crypts in 1875 to accommodate a widening of the road but date as far back as the early 14th century. Now new construction dictates they’ll have to be reinterred again. Not even the dead get to rest long in London!

Another project creating a new tunnel for Crossrail at Plumstead has uncovered a much older transport system, the BBC reports. Archaeologists believe timbers they’ve discovered at the site are part of a 3,500-year-old Bronze Age trackway.

These wooden roads were used to ease travel across rough areas, especially wetlands. Similar trackways have been found in many locations in the UK and continental Europe. The odd thing about this one is that it runs along the same route as the new Crossrail route.

One great place to explore London’s history is the Museum of London. The British Museum has good galleries about prehistoric, Roman and Medieval England. The Crossrail Visitor Information Centre also has an archaeology exhibit until October 27 showing off some of their discoveries. The finds range from the prehistoric to the Industrial Revolution, although these latest finds are still being analyzed and will not be on display.

[Image of 15th century funeral procession at the Old St. Paul’s cathedral courtesy Project Gutenberg]