Crossrail excavations reveal Black Death skeletons

Archaeologists engaged on the Crossrail project have discovered an historical burial ground in central London.

Thirteen skeletons was uncovered lying in two carefully laid out rows at the fringe of Charterhouse Square at Farringdon, and are believed to be as much as 660 years old.

Historical records make connection with a burial ground inside the Farringdon area that opened in the course of the Black Death Plague in 1348. The limited written records suggest as much as 50,000 people can have been buried in under three years within the hastily established cemetery, with the burial ground used up until the 1500s.

Despite significant development within the Farringdon area over the centuries, the burial ground, described in historical records as “no man’s land”, hasn’t ever been located.

During the past two weeks, Crossrail’s archaeologists uncovered 13 skeletons 2.5 metres below the line that surrounds the gardens in Charterhouse Square. The depth of the burials, the pottery dated up until 1350 present in the graves and the layout of the skeletons all point to the possibility that these skeletons were buried in Charterhouse Square in the course of the Black Death Plague around 1349. The graves has been specified by an analogous formation as skeletons discovered in a Black Plague burial site in east Smithfield within the 1980s.

The skeletons are being excavated and brought to the Museum of London Archaeology for laboratory testing. The scientists are hoping to map the DNA signature of the Plague bacteria and probably contribute to the discussion regarding what caused the Black Death. The bones can also be radio carbon dated to attempt and establish the burial dates.

Plague cannot survive for extremely long within the soil. After 650 years, only the skeleton bones remain and don’t present any modern-day health risk.

Crossrail lead archaeologist Jay Carver said: “This is a highly significant discovery and at this time we’re left with many questions that we are hoping to reply. We’ll be undertaking scientific tests at the skeletons over the approaching months to determine their explanation for death, whether or not they were Plague victims from the 14th Century or later London residents, how old they were and maybe evidence of who they were. However, at this early stage, the depth of burials, the pottery found with the skeletons and how the skeletons was set out, all point towards this being portion of the 14th Century emergency burial ground.”

Charterhouse Square had previously been identified as a probable site for the lost burial ground because it was among the many few locations in Farringdon to stay undeveloped for the past 700 years.

In 1998, a single skeleton was discovered buried at Charterhouse Square when archaeologists were investigating the positioning of a chapel shown on historic maps. By itself, this was not enough evidence to substantiate a burial ground.

Two years ago during associated utility works in Charterhouse Street, Crossrail archaeologists located human bones that had previously been disturbed and suggested a burial ground might be nearby.

These are usually not the 1st skeletons found at the Crossrail project, with archaeologists already uncovering greater than 300 burials on the New Cemetery near the location of the Bedlam Hospital at Liverpool Street from the 1500s to 1700s.