There’s now no doubt that a grisly discovery in London is a mass grave of Black Death victims from the 14th century. For those of you in the United States and elsewhere, there has already been news and documentary coverage in the UK and I’m sure you will hear more about this very soon.
The skeletons were discovered in Charterhouse Square – what would have once been the outskirts of the medieval city of London and the site of a huge monastic complex. It was also close to Smithfield – or the Smooth Field – which aside from being a livestock market was also an execution ground (Braveheart came to a sticky end there).
Just over a dozen remains were found initially during construction of London’s new rail link – Crossrail. DNA evidence revealed that they were victims of Yersinia Pestis – better known as the bubonic plague and the outbreak between the years 1348 to 1350, termed the Black Death. In recent years, it was questioned whether or not the Black Death was bubonic plague – a condition that still exists in some parts of the world – but scientific advances now affirm categorically that it was bubonic plague.
It’s estimated that up to 60% of the English died during this plague and a documentary on Channel Four last night suggested that famine had already weakened the population’s ability to resist the disease. The skeletons show evidence of malnutrition and poverty related disease suggesting that for ordinary Londoners, daily life was pretty grim.
Here is an image of the point at which the bodies were discovered in a work shaft for the new rail system.