Excavations at New Bunhill Fields, Southwark in 2008 uncovered evidence of a heavily used private burial ground. Documentary sources suggest that from c 1821–53 up to 33,000 burials may have taken place in the commercial Nonconformist burial ground. Excavation of 827 wooden coffin burials allowed comparisons of the use of the burial ground, coffin furniture and burial finds with other contemporary cemeteries. Of particular interest were the good level of preservation of floral remains in a child’s coffin, ceramic plates in a woman’s coffin and good examples of burial clothing. The 514 skeletons selected for full osteological analysis, demonstrated a broad spectrum of pathological conditions including evidence of metabolic, infectious, congenital and neoplastic diseases. Evidence of trauma suggested high rates of interpersonal violence and eight skeletons showed signs of post-mortem examination. One adult male displayed a particularly striking case of nasopharyngeal carcinoma (cancer) with massive destruction of the central facial area of the skull. Another condition rarely encountered in the archaeological record was a case of osteogenesis imperfecta identified in an 18 month old child. This evidence will help provide information about life and death in this area of 19th-century London.
Next up is the much anticipated bioarchaeological study of the medieval burials from Spitalfields Market.
Major excavations in 1999-2002 on the site of the Augustinian priory and hospital of St Mary Spital uncovered the remains of over 10,500 human skeletons. Unprecedented accuracy of dating and phasing of the cemetery was achieved using a targeted programme of stratigraphic and radiocarbon dating techniques, resulting in four chronological periods of burials. Osteological analysis of a sample of 5387 skeletons has provided a unique insight into the lives of medieval Londoners from the 12th to the early 16th centuries. Many of the skeletons showed evidence of disease and injury including some of the earliest cases of syphilis in Europe. The results of this major project are integrated into a biocultural framework, which includes the recurrent famines and epidemics of the time, effects of urban living on child health, the role and influence of the hospital and the reasons behind the mass burial of almost 4000 people.
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