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Crossrail discovers Black Death burial ground

Thirteen skeletons have been found by Crossrail archaeologists, heralding the first evidence of a lost London burial ground.

The skeletons have been found lying in two carefully laid out rows on the edge of Charterhouse Square at Farringdon, and are believed to be up to 660 years old.

Historical records have referenced a burial ground in the Farringdon area, opened during the Black Death Plague in 1348.

Limited written records suggest up to 50,000 people may have been buried in fewer than three years.

Despite significant development in Farringdon over the centuries, the ground, described as “no man’s land” has never been located.

In two weeks, Crossrail workers have discovered 13 skeletons 2.5 metres below the road surrounding the Charterhouse Square guardians.

The depth of ther burials, pottery found in the graves, and the layout of the skeletons, all point to the period of the plague around 1349.

The skeletons are being carefully excavated and taken to the Museum of London Archaelogy.

Crossrail lead archaeologist Jay Carver said: “This is a highly significant discovery and at the moment we are left with many questions that we hope to answer.”

“We will be undertaking scientific tests on the skeletons over the coming months to establish their cause of death, whether they were Plague victims from the 14th Century or later London residents, how old they were and perhaps evidence of who they were.”

“However, at this early stage, the depth of burials, the pottery found with the skeletons and the way the skeletons have been set out, all point towards this being part of the  14th Century emergency burial ground.”

Crossrail stressed that plague cannot survive for long in the soil, so the skeleton bones do not present any modern-day health risk.

Charterhouse Square had previously been identified as a possible site for the burial ground, as it was one of few Farringdon locations to remain undeveloped for the prior 700 years.

A single skeleton was discovered there in 1988, when archaeologists were investigating the location of a chapel shown on historic maps.

Two years ago, during associated utility works, Crossrail workers located human bones that suggested a burial ground could be nearby.

Archaeologists have already uncovered more than 300 burials at the New Cemetery near the Bedlam Hospital at Liverpool Street while working on Crossrail.

Those dates from the 1500s to the 1700s.

The scientists hope to map the DNA signature of the plague bacteria and possibly contribute to the discussion regarding its causes.

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