Medieval burial ground with remains of at least 50 human skeletons discovered in Westminster Abbey London

Medieval burial ground with remains of at least 50 human skeletons discovered in Westminster Abbey London

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Workers demolishing a section of Westminster Abbey to make room for a new tower stumbled upon something most surprising (at least in that part of the abbey)

The remains of at least 50 individuals, including the skeleton of a 3-year old, that archaeologists believe date back to the 11th and 12th centuries, the Guardian reports.

The “skulls and leg bones stacked up into dense piles like firewood” were found under Victorian drainage pipes outside the wall of Poets’ Corner, where famous literary figures such as Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling are buried and where memorials have been raised to such notables as Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Jane Austen.

The estimated date of the remains means the deceased may have witnessed the chaotic events of 1066 in England, including the Norman attack.

The bodies—which were Discovered by archaeologists after a lavatory block “built as solidly as a nuclear bunker,” per the excavation’s leader, was moved to make way for the abbey’s first new tower in 300 years—were believed to have been shoved under the pipes when Henry III was tearing down Edward the Confessors church and replacing it with his new abbey in the mid 1200s.

The Guardian notes that some of the skulls had square holes, likely left by the pickaxes used by thirteenth -century workers.

One of the mysteries from the finds: Why the 3 year old, whose gender cant be determined without further tests, was found there, though the fact that the child was buried in a wooden coffin likely means he or she was of high status, per the Guardian.

The remains will be reburied properly within the abbey after they have been studied

Westminster Abbeys consultant archaeologist, Professor Warwick Rodwell, told the Guardian most of the bones were adult.

“What the child is doing there is one of the many unanswered questions, yet it is a feature of many ecclesiastical sites that you find the remains of women and children in places where you might not quite expect them,” he stated.

All of the remains are thought to date to the 11 th or 12 th century. Along with the kid’s grave, a man buried in a large coffin made from stone from Northamptonshire was also found. His skull had been stolen – possibly by Victorian workmen.

The area is currently being excavated as part of the transform of part of the 13th-century Triforium into a new viewing and gallery area that will be open to the public for the first time.
The area is currently being excavated as part of the transform of part of the 13th-century Triforium into a new viewing and gallery area that will be open to the public for the first time.

The bones had been moved there by laborers constructing the new abbey during the reign of Henry III. Some of the skulls have holes in them and archaeologists believe this was done by the king’s workmen amid the build.

Researchers say the level of preservation means they should be able to establish more about who the people were, working out their age, health and where they came from.

Paw Jorgensen, who supervised the excavation, said owing to the situation of their original burial site just outside the south transept walls, most of the remains belongs to senior clergy.

The find means 3,500 people are known to have been buried in Westminster Abbey. After researchers analyse the remains, they will be reburied in the church grounds.

The footings were built from Reigate stone between 1246 and1250, during the reign of Henry III, and back filled with charnel material comprising mostly of femurs and skulls from earlier burials.
The footings were built from Reigate stone between 1246 and1250, during the reign of Henry III, and back filled with charnel material comprising mostly of femurs and skulls from earlier burials.

 

The square hole on the skull is likely from pick axes used to dig out the bones in the thirteenth century.
The square hole on the skull is likely from pick axes used to dig out the bones in the thirteenth century.

 

The block was demolished to make way for a new tower that will allow visitors into the attics
The block was demolished to make way for a new tower that will allow visitors into the attics
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P. Natasha Covers Classical Archaeology news and has been with Histecho since 2017. She has a Master's degree in MA Archaeology from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting program. A California native, she also holds a Bachelor of science in molecular biology and a Master of Science in biology from the University of California, San Diego.

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