March 17, 2013
UK Railway Project Unearths Possible Black Death Plague Pit
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports — Your Universe Online
More than a dozen bodies believed to be those of plague victims have been unearthed by excavation workers working on the construction of a new railroad in the UK, various media outlets reported late last week.
According to Joe Shute of The Telegraph, engineers working on the $22 billion Crossrail project uncovered a total of 14 bodies in a previously undiscovered Black Death plague pit located at Charterhouse Square in Farringdon, a historic area in the city of London.
“The skeletons, two of which were discovered yesterday morning, lie unmarked in neat little rows. It was the fate of many of the city´s poorest inhabitants when plague ravaged Britain from 1348, killing more than a third of its population,” Shute explained.
“The significant find corresponds with historical documents, including John Stow´s 1598 Survey of London, that suggest the surrounding area could contain as many as 50,000 bodies — with 100,000 buried elsewhere in the city,” he added. “No trace of the burial ground has previously been identified.”
The bodies, which were buried approximately eight feet below the ground, were discovered when Crossrail workers were working on a new tunnel shaft for the forthcoming railway, The Guardian reported.
DNA taken from the skeletons found there has been taken to the Museum of London, where archaeologists are using radio carbon dating. They are hoping to establish the burial dates of the skeletons, as well as chart the plague bacteria, said Shute and BBC News Science and Technology Reporter Jason Palmer.
“It is hoped the research will answer many of the questions over what caused the plague epidemics that cast the shadow of death over London from the 14th century to the mid-17th century,” The Telegraph reporter said.
Royal Holloway University of London Professor Justin Champion called it “a fascinating discovery,” and Crossrail archaeologist Jay Carver told the Associated Press (AP) it was a “pretty rare find within London.”
The burial pit is just one of several archaeologically significant discoveries uncovered during the Crossrail project, which will involve the construction of a new rail line from west London to the eastern part of the city, according to the AP. During the project, researchers have also discovered 55-million-year-old amber, 68,000-year-old mammoth and bison bones, the remnants of a 16th century manor house and Roman-era human remains.
Does the discovery of the pit mean the plague could make a return? According to Shute, “Archaeologists have been at pains to stress the newly unearthed bodies in London pose no threat to public health — the bacteria would have perished centuries ago, within a matter of weeks of burial.” Likewise, Champion said it was a “myth that we will disturb some evil grave in London and this disease will come out and kill us all. That is just not going to happen.”