Skeletons of Black Death victims unearthed in London
LONDON — Workers digging a railway line in London have uncovered what experts believe is a medieval burial ground for victims of the Black Death — a plague that wiped out as many as half of London's inhabitants when it swept the city in the mid-14th century.
Thirteen skeletons were found lying in two carefully laid-out rows about 2.4 yards below the road on the edge of historic Charterhouse Square in Farringdon.
Archaeologist Jay Carver said scientists will study the bones to establish cause of death and hope to map the DNA signature of the plague bacteria. “This is a pretty rare find within London,” Carver said on Friday.
It is the latest in a string of unusual discoveries that are a byproduct of the Crossrail project — including amber that is 55 million years old, bison bones from 68,000 years ago and Roman remains.
According to archaeologists, there could be up to 50,000 more skeletons buried nearby. “The short answer is we don't know just how many skeletons are out there,” said Nick Elsden of the Museum of London Archaeology.
The bubonic plague spread via fleas on rats, cutting a swathe through populations ignorant of its cause. It raced from Asia through Europe and North Africa in 1347. By the next year, it struck this island nation. The Black Death is thought to have killed roughly 75 million people worldwide in four years, spawning the nursery rhyme, “Ring around the rosie. ... Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.”
Thousands of Londoners died, though the exact number is unclear because record-keeping was so poor, said Roy Stephenson of the Museum of London.
Still there was order in the Charterhouse site, and the regular spacing between the bodies — their heads pointing to the west, awaiting Judgment Day — suggests some sort of municipal control, Stephenson said.
There's no chance that a new outbreak of bubonic plague might be ignited from the find. Stephenson said the bacillus is quite fragile and dies without a host.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pakistan says U.S. cut trees illegally
- Hungary bars migrants from trains, raising fears they’ll turn to smugglers
- Officer killed in Ukraine clash with nationalist protesters
- Afghan president calls for ‘holy war’ against corruption
- Pope: Priests in Holy Year can absolve ‘sin of abortion’
- Professors slam Modi’s record