Rail dig may have found London's lost "Black Death" graves

LONDON Fri Mar 15, 2013 7:40am EDT

Archaeologists work on unearthed skeletons in the Farringdon area of London in this undated handout photograph released March 15, 2013. Archaeologists said on Friday they had found a graveyard during excavations for a rail project in London which might hold the remains of some 50,000 people killed by the ''Black Death'' plague more than 650 years ago. Thirteen skeletons laid out in two neat rows were discovered 2.5 metres (8 feet) below the road in the Farringdon area of central London by researchers working on the 16 billion pound ($24 billion) Crossrail project. REUTERS/Crossrail/Handout

Archaeologists work on unearthed skeletons in the Farringdon area of London in this undated handout photograph released March 15, 2013. Archaeologists said on Friday they had found a graveyard during excavations for a rail project in London which might hold the remains of some 50,000 people killed by the ''Black Death'' plague more than 650 years ago. Thirteen skeletons laid out in two neat rows were discovered 2.5 metres (8 feet) below the road in the Farringdon area of central London by researchers working on the 16 billion pound ($24 billion) Crossrail project.

Credit: Reuters/Crossrail/Handout

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LONDON (Reuters) - Archaeologists said on Friday they had discovered a lost burial ground during excavations for a massive new rail project in London which might hold the bodies of some 50,000 people who were killed by the "Black Death" plague more than 650 years ago.

Thirteen skeletons, laid out in two careful rows, were found 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) below the road in the Farringdon area of central London by researchers working on the 16 billion pound ($24 billion) Crossrail project.

Historical records had indicated the area, described as a "no man's land", had once housed a hastily established cemetery for victims of the bubonic plague which killed about the third of England's population following its outbreak in 1348.

"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," said Jay Carver, Crossrail's lead archaeologist.

Limited records suggest up to 50,000 victims were buried in less than three years in the Farringdon cemetery as the plague ravaged the capital.

The archaeologists hope that the skeletons, which have been taken away for scientific tests, will shed light on the DNA signature of the plague and confirm the burial dates.

The cemetery find could be the second significant medieval discovery in England recently, after archaeologists confirmed last month they had discovered the remains of King Richard III, who died in battle in 1485, under a car park in central England.

Building works for Crossrail, a new railway link under central London and Europe's largest infrastructure project, have already uncovered skeletons from more than 300 burials at a cemetery near the site of London's notorious psychiatric Bedlam Hospital in the heart of the city of London.

(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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