50,000 bubonic plague victims may still be buried beneath London's streets

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Archaeologists working on London's £14.8 billion ($22 billion) Crossrail Project have discovered a burial ground in Farringdon, a historic part of the city. According to experts, there may be as many as 50,000 people buried in this so-called "no man's land" — victims of the Black Plague that swept through the region in 1348.

During the past two weeks, 13 skeletons have been uncovered lying in two carefully laid out rows about eight feet (2.5 meters) below the surface. The Museum of London's Nick Elsden suspects that further discoveries are likely. The plague, which killed about a quarter of the population, forced the local residents to set up an emergency burial ground. Historical documents suggest that people were buried in this makeshift cemetery over the course of three years.


Though it's eluded them for years, archaeologists now suspect they've finally found it. Crossrail writes:

The depth of the burials, the pottery dated up until 1350 found in the graves and the layout of the skeletons all point to the likelihood that these skeletons were buried in Charterhouse Square during the Black Death Plague around 1349. The graves have been laid out in a similar formation as skeletons discovered in a Black Plague burial site in east Smithfield in the 1980s.

The skeletons are being carefully excavated and taken to the Museum of London Archaeology for laboratory testing. The scientists are hoping to map the DNA signature of the Plague bacteria and possibly contribute to the discussion regarding what caused the Black Death. The bones may also be radio carbon dated to try and establish the burial dates.

Plague cannot survive for very long in the soil. After 650 years, only the skeleton bones remain and do not present any modern-day health risk.



Images: Crossrail.