Archaeologists are working on a huge medieval burial ground in London. The ancient cemetery was discovered by railway workers who are building a new line through the city.
Scientists hope that the skeletons can reveal information about how Londoners lived about five hundred years ago.
The excavating works begun today. More than 3.000 people were buried in the cemetery in the 16th and 17th centuries, most of them being victims of the bubonic plague that swiped through Europe at the time.
It is the largest archaeological dig made in London in the last decades, and after the works are completed, the bones will be replaced with a trans-London Crossrail which has a 73-mile length and passes through some of the oldest and most populated areas of the city.
Scientists didn’t found just human bones, but other pieces of history or prehistory, like mammoth bones or medieval ice skates and Roman horseshoes.
“It’s going to be archaeologically the most important sample we have of the population of London from the 16th and 17th centuries,” said Chief archaeologist Jay Carver said about the Bedlam dig.
The cemetery opened in 1569 and it’s the resting place for rich and poor citizens of London, patients from Bedlam Hospital, which was the fist asylum for the mentally ill. Test conducted by scientists revealed much about the people who are buried here, like what they ate or what diseases they suffered from. Most of them had died of the plague.
London was hit by four outbreaks of the highly deadly and contagious disease. In 1665 alone, more than 100.000 people died because of it.
The researchers will analyze DNA taken from the skeletons’ teeth to map out the “evolutionary tree of the plague bacteria.” The method was also used in the case of the skeletons excavated in another site. It helped to identify them as victims of the Black Death of 1348, when half of the city’s population was wiped out.
Scientists want to know how the disease has evolved over the centuries by comparing the two sets of results.
More than sixty archaeologists working 16 hours a day shifts, six days a week to achieve their goals, and the works will last a month. After the skeletons will be studied, they will be reburied on Canvey Island in the Thames Estuary.
Image Source: Red Orbit