Recent forensic tests conducted on the skeletons unearthed during the London Crossrail project have revealed that the skeletons were victims of the 14th century Black Death. In all, 25 skeletons were unearthed from a 5.5m shaft beneath Charterhouse Square in March 2013.

Crossrail_development_heritage_find

The burial site of the Black Death skeletons, found during Crossrail construction.

Samples taken from 12 of the skeletons revealed that four of them contained traces of the DNA of the Yersinia pestis, evidence that the medieval Londoners had been exposed to the Black Death. Radiocarbon dating on the skeletons and on pottery found buried with them showed that the burial ground was used during two separate periods that align with medieval records of the Black Death in England.

Those records indicate that in the mid-14th century, thousands of Londoners perished from exposure to the Black Death and were buried in mass graves outside the City. Its precise location was unknown, but discovery of the burial ground beneath Charterhouse Square has led archaeologists to believe that it is the burial ground mentioned in medieval records.

UK_Crossrail_01The analysis conducted on the skeletons revealed much about the lives of 14th century Britons. For instance, many of the skeletons showed signs of malnutrition, evidence of a poor diet. Many of the skeletons also showed evidence of back strain and damage, indicators of the high percentage of medieval persons who worked manual labour. Ultimately, the discovery provides a glimpse at the hard life lived by much of the medieval population, even without the added threat of the Black Death.

Bodies of Black Death victims give up their secrets [Telegraph]

Black Death skeletons unearthed by Crossrail project [BBC]