Tags: bedlam | skeletons | london | archaeologist

Bedlam Skeletons — 3,000 of Them — Excavated at London Burial Site

Image: Bedlam Skeletons — 3,000 of Them — Excavated at London Burial Site
Archaeologists work on the Bedlam burial ground on the future site of a Crossrail ticket hall next to Liverpool Street Station in London March 6, 2015. (Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters /Landov)

By    |   Wednesday, 11 Mar 2015 08:40 AM

Some 3,000 skeletons are being excavated from the old Bedlam burial grounds in London as archaeologists comb the 16th- and 17th-century cemetery site for clues of the city's last great plague.

The site is the location for the new, upcoming Liverpool Street Crossrail station. Archaeologists first discovered more than 1,000 bodies at the former burial site in 2011, according to a report by The Independent.

"We are talking about several hundreds, possibly thousands of sets of remains," Crossrail archaeologist Jake Carver told the newspaper at the time. "We have made a larger hole at the site than anything previously created here."

The cemetery was officially known as the "Bethlehem Churchyard," which was part of Bethlehem Hospital's land holdings. "Bedlam" was an old abbreviation of Bethlehem and eventually became connected with the hospital, which was known for its inhuman treatment of patients, The Independent noted.

"Construction for Crossrail is providing rare and exciting opportunities for archaeologists to excavate and study areas of London that would ordinarily be inaccessible, such as under established road-systems," Nick Elsden, project manager from the Museum of London Archaeology, told Crossrail.

"There are up to six meters of archaeology on site, in what is one of the oldest areas of the city, so we stand to learn a great deal," he continued. "The research also aims to shed light on migration patterns, diet, lifestyle, and demography of those living in London at the time. Excavated skeletons will be taken to MOLA for testing by osteologists (bone specialists) before being reburied in a consecrated burial ground."

Crossrail was established in 2001 as a joint venture company between Transport for London and the Department for Transport, before becoming a fully owned subsidiary of Transport for London in 2008.

Crossrail wrote that the Bedlam cemetery was in use from 1569 to at least 1738, through the British Empire and various plague outbreaks. Archaeologists hope that testing plague victims from the burial grounds will help to understand how the bacteria strain evolved.

Elsden told LiveScience.com that archaeologists may not be able to identify most of the skeletons, as most of the coffin plates have corroded and are illegible.

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Some 3,000 skeletons are being excavated from the old Bedlam burial grounds in London as archaeologists comb the 16th- and 17th-century cemetery site for clues of the city's last great plague.
bedlam, skeletons, london, archaeologist
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2015-40-11
Wednesday, 11 Mar 2015 08:40 AM
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