Approximately 3,000 skeletons, some dating back to the 1500s, have been discovered and are being excavated as part of the construction of a new train station being built near London.
According to Discovery News, a team of 60 researchers and archaeologists are in the process of digging up bodies at the Bedlam burial ground, which was used from 1569 to 1738. That period includes several plague outbreaks and the Great Fire of London, the website noted.
The skeletons will eventually be re-buried at a nearby cemetery, but before hand, scientists from the Museum of London plan to test the bones in order to “shed light on migration patterns, diet, lifestyle and demography” of people living in the area during the 16th and 17th centuries.
“Archaeologists hope that tests on excavated plague victims will help understand the evolution of the plague bacteria strain,” said Crossrail, the company currently building a new east-to-west train line near the Liverpool Street station. The excavation could help uncover an ancient Roman road, and that several artifacts (including urns) had already been recovered, they added.
Fascinating phase of London’s history
The burial ground, which was named after the nearby Bethlem Royal Hospital, which was also known as Bedlam and was the world’s oldest psychiatric institution (it has since been relocated). It is also known as the New Churchyard, according to CNN, and was used by Londoners who could not afford a church burial or chose to be buried there for political or religious reasons.
“This excavation presents a unique opportunity to understand the lives and deaths of 16th and 17th century Londoners,” lead archaeologist Jay Carver told The Telegraph on Monday. “The Bedlam burial ground spans a fascinating phase of London’s history, including the transition from the Tudor-period city into cosmopolitan early-modern London.”
“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 added. “Bedlam was used by a hugely diverse population from right across the social spectrum and from different areas of the city.”
All hail Crossrail
Among those believed to be during there are members of the Levellers, a 17th-century political grouping that advocated popular sovereignty and religious tolerance. Once the current excavation is complete, a new ticket hall for the nearby Crossrail station will be built on the site. That work is expected to wrap up by September, at which time construction will begin.
Crossrail, which is being hailed as the UK’s largest archaeology project, has found over 10,000 artifacts of various London eras from 40 different construction sites. Preliminary excavations at the Liverpool Street site in 2013 and 2014 have already uncovered more than 400 skeletons and several artifacts, according to various media reports.
“We’re filling a bit of a gap in our knowledge of London’s population and their lives and what they suffered from in terms of health and how long they lived and how they died,” Carver told Reuters. “I think it’s going to be the largest sample we’ve got telling us that story of an individual sample of London’s population at that time.”