MOLA archaeologists excavate mass burial pit at Crossrail's Liverpool Street site

Crossrail mass burial pit may be from Great Plague

MOLA team
12.08.2015

Recent excavation by our archaeologists at Liverpool Street for Crossrail has uncovered a mass burial pit. Containing around 45 individuals, we hope to confirm whether the mass burial is contemporary with the Great Plague of 1665 through further scientific study.

The team has so far carefully excavated around 3,500 skeletons from the former Bedlam burial ground. This is the largest collection of 16th and 17th century skeletal remains ever excavated in London.

Unlike the individual graves found in the rest of the cemetery, these skeletons are contained within a clearly defined pit. The burials were originally placed within coffins, the wood of which has decayed causing them to collapse in on each other. The skeletons are positioned in rows and line the edges of the pit. Stacked three or four deep, the skeletons fill all the available space. There doesn’t appear to have been any soil placed in between the burials, suggesting they were interred in a single event. This is consistent with a catastrophic event, such as Plague.

Explore the discovery in this 360° film of our archaeologists excavating the pit.

Jay Carver, Crossrail Lead Archaeologist said: “The construction of Crossrail gives us a rare opportunity to study previously inaccessible areas of London and learn about the lives and deaths of 16th and 17th Century Londoners.”

Our finds specialists will study the objects found within the pit, such as pottery and coffin furniture, to help secure a date for the burials. The osteological team will carry out detailed research on these remains.

MOLA Senior Osteologist, Mike Henderson, said: "The concentration of burials in this pit provides a new focus for scientific testing and study. We hope detailed osteological analysis will help to determine whether these people were exposed to the Great Plague and potentially learn more about the evolution of this deadly disease." 

This discovery comes 350 years after the devastating plague of 1665. The Guardian online has published this plague visual to mark the 350th anniversary of the Great Plague. The visual was created using a geo-referenced historical parish map originally produced by us for the Mapping London project, commissioned by the Centre for Metropolitan History, School of Advanced Study, University of London. Mapping London used a similar geo-referencing methodology to the Locating London’s Past project.

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