Processing human remains (c) MOLA

Charnel pits: Excavating Historic Human Bones in Islington

MOLA team

A charnel pit containing a large quantity of historic human bones has been excavated under the watchful eye of our archaeologists in Kings Square in Islington, London in cooperation with exhumation specialists Rowland Brothers.

Whilst we’re not sure of the original date that the burials took place, it appears likely that they date to the 16th and 17th centuries. The bones were actually found reburied but disarticulated, meaning that they were not found in anatomical order. It is likely that these remains were reinterred in charnel pits in the late-17th or 18th centuries.

The bones have been studied by our osteologists who have been able to confirm that three human skull fragments displayed injuries, including one that is probably from a weapon, such as a sword or axe.

One skull fragment from an adult male showed possible evidence of medical treatment in the form of an unhealed circular hole, similar to that found in cases of trepanation (where a hole is made in the skull with a knife or drill to relieve swelling or remove bone splinters following injury). In this particular case, there was no bone regrowth around the hole and the treatment seems to have been unsuccessful, we know that the individual died soon after.

There were additional signs of trauma and disease in other bones found in the pit, including a healed fracture on an adult left femur shaft (thigh bone), we can tell that the person had lived with this injuries after they had occurred. Our osteologists also found two possible examples of Paget’s Disease of Bone (a chronic disorder associated with older age), and one adult with residual rickets (vitamin D deficiency).

The remains were discovered as part of development plans for the site for the King Square Estate. The research of the human remains is now complete and they are due to be reburied by the London Borough of Islington

  • Post-medieval
  • Excavation
  • Osteoarchaeology
  • News

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