If you”ve ever walked the streets of London, you might have unwittingly walked over thousands of people.
Under Liverpool Street, archaeologists and excavators have unearthed around 3,000 skeletons from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. The discovery is being hailed as one of the most valuable burial sites in London.
The burial ground, called the Bedlam burial ground, was in active use as a cemetery from 1569 to the late 1730s. The people buried here lived through the English Civil War, the time of Shakespeare, the Great Fire of London, and several outbreaks of the Black Plague. It includes the remains of those who perished in London”s last confrontation with the Plague in 1665.
The site is alternately known as Bedlam, Bethlam, and the New Churchyard.
Archaeologists hope to use the skeletons to learn more about the nature and spread of the Plague, which could help medical workers combat deadly epidemics today. To date, 3,000 skeletons have been unearthed, but it”s believed that nearly 20,000 people were buried here in the 169 years the cemetery was used.
The dig is headed by the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), with funding by Crossrail, the railroad company behind London”s latest railway project. The large scale of the dig is providing researchers with an opportunity to learn more about life in London during this time period, thanks to the size of the cemetery and the diversity of its population. Researchers hope to learn about all aspects of life, from diet and lifestyle to demography and migration patterns.
The skeletons, which were lying under a road for hundreds of years, will be excavated and taken to MOLA for study. After the studies are complete, they”ll be reinterred in consecrated ground.
The thousands of skeletons come from varying time periods and backgrounds. One of the skeletons (not the one in the picture) is that of Ambrose Nicholas, the Lord Mayor of London in 1575. Researchers are also putting together a list of everyone who was buried here.
The project will last through the beginning of autumn 2015. The site has even more to offer than the skeletons: underneath them are the remains of the original Roman-era road that is reincarnated today as Liverpool Road. The dig has already yielded some Roman artifacts, including horseshoes and cremation urns.
The site, after it was a Roman road, was London”s first municipal cemetery, and was placed just outside the original city walls. People who couldn”t afford a church burial or who chose not to be buried on church grounds were interred here. It also served as an overflow cemetery when other sites were filled to capacity, such as during times of plague.
Crossrail is one of London”s largest backers of archaeological digs, and has helped find more than 10,000 artifacts spanning the last 55 million yearsall in London alone.
(via Mashable, Crossrail)
Lead Crossrail archaeologist Jay Carver says that this dig is a unique opportunity because it spans important periods in London”s evolution, and, because it”s been under a road, has remained relatively untouched. It”s also notable for its large scale. “This is probably the first time a sample of this size from this time period has been available for archaeologists to study in London,” he says.
The research at this site is ongoing, so there may be exciting discoveries in the near future!