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Skeletons of black death victims found in Finsbury plague pit

PUBLISHED: 07:19 19 March 2013

The scene of the dig in Finsbury

The scene of the dig in Finsbury

Archant

Skeletons thought to belong to victims of the Black Death have been discovered in a 663-year-old “plague pit” in Finsbury.

The remains of 13 people suspected of dying from the plague were in a previously hidden burial ground 2.5m beneath Charterhouse Square.

They were unearthed by workers on the Crossrail project and experts think the pit could be the final resting place of up to 50,000 people.

Clerkenwell tour guide John Finn, chairman of the Clerkenwell and Islington Guides’ Association, said: “It’s really interesting. We always told the story of how Charterhouse Square was built to remember the plague victims and they were buried underneath – hence why it had never been developed.

“There was even an investigation some years ago to find the bodies, but nothing was found.

“So it’s really brilliant news to have it confirmed.”

Pottery dated to 1350 was found in the graves and along with the way the skeletons were arranged suggest that they were buried during the plague around 1349.

Mr Finn added: “From evidence we have seen elsewhere, bodies would be placed in neat rows at the beginning of the plague, but as the death toll mounted that became impossible and they just started throwing them in.

‘Significant’

“The land was bought by a medieval knight called Walter de Manny when the plague really took hold, as somewhere to bury the bodies. They had to be buried in consecrated ground which was in short supply as more and more people died.”

The bones will be analysed by scientists who will extract traces of the plague to try and find out what caused it. After many centuries the skeletons represent no risk to the public.

Jay Carver, lead archaeologist at Crossrail, 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.”

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