MOLA osteologists examine Crossrail skeletons (c) MOLA

Crossrail programme highlight: how do you analyse 3300 skeletons?

MOLA team
08.08.2016

Our excavations of the Bedlam burial ground for the Crossrail programme, at the site of the Elizabeth line station at Liverpool Street, finished in late 2015. The dig uncovered more than 3,300 human skeletons, the largest collection of 16th to 18th-century human remains ever found in London.

In advance of the dig, a bespoke fieldwork strategy was devised with the Crossrail team to maximise the knowledge gained, whilst ensuring that our methods were efficient and flexible enough to meet the demands of this hugely important infrastructure project.

A tailored sampling and on-site assessment strategy, and technologies implemented during the burial ground dig, meant that we were able to deliver in the fieldwork phase and also set us on the right track for the post-excavation analysis.

So what does post-excavation involve and what do developers need to consider?

Post-excavation is when all of the archaeological and built heritage records and material from the fieldwork phase are brought together, researched, interpreted and ultimately published. This is a requirement of planning so it’s worth developers understanding what archaeologists can do to deliver at this stage of the process. 

A focussed research strategy

Post-excavation isn’t about researching in minute detail every little piece of archaeological evidence; it’s about answering specific research questions that provide significant new insights. Working with an experienced team of specialists, who understand the research potential and can develop a targeted research framework, will result in a nimble and targeted post-excavation programme, making best use of the available resources. For Crossrail, key questions about the Great Plague and peopling of 16th to 18th-century London have been addressed.

Experts who know their stuff

Having the right experts, and enough of them, is essential to successful delivery of a post-excavation programme. As the excavated skeletons started to arrive at MOLA, a large team of osteological-processors cleaned and catalogued each skeleton so that our four experienced osteologists (human remains specialists) could start work straight away analysing the skeletons. Working alongside a wide range of in-house experts they have brought the results together within a tight programme so that the findings can be published before the Crossrail programme completes.

Digitised working

The high quality digital records gathered during the excavation of the burial ground at Crossrail have enabled our geomaticians to create a 3D GIS model of the burials and a photogrammetric model of the mass burial pit. These digital products have been a great help to the experts who are interpreting the archaeology. The digitised data also feeds into Crossrail’s overall BIM system so that the archaeology can be mapped against other elements of the project.

Storytelling and stakeholder engagement 

Post-excavation is an excellent opportunity to form a narrative about a site or project, to celebrate its rich heritage and share these stories and new insights with stakeholders. Crossrail has embraced archaeology, resulting in a popular community engagement programme of exhibitions, talks and tours, and they have communicated the archaeological findings far and wide through TV documentaries and stories in the news. The Crossrail archaeology books, of which MOLA is producing seven volumes, have already proved to be hugely popular with the public. These physical outputs for the Crossrail programme are a lasting legacy and reminder of the sustainability of the project.

Find out more about our post-excavation services, award-winning publications programme and sustainable business initiatives on our website.

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