Hospital last: studied medieval fraternal grave of victims of the Black death

When the Black death broke out in the Northern part of Lincolnshire in the mid-14th century, the sick and the desperate people turned for help to the nearest hospital of the Abbey of Thornton. It killed so many people that members of the clergy were forced to bury the bodies in a common grave.

It is this mass grave was found by a group of archaeologists in 2012. Some time ago experts from the University of Sheffield has carefully studied the remains of the victims of the Black death and found new details.

So, people were buried in 1300 years. In the grave were the remains of 48 men, women and children, more than half of them were younger than 17.

Experts have suggested that the cause of these deaths has become a rapidly spreading epidemic. This conclusion was made not only because of the number of corpses, but due to the different ages of the victims. The fact that medieval cemeteries most of the graves belong to either the very young or very old people, which at all times was especially vulnerable to disease and injury.

“But that’s not the case here,” commented the study’s lead author Dr. Hugh Willmott (Hugh Willmott) at the University of Sheffield.

Time of death of these people coincided with outbreaks of plague in England, and the analysis of large molars taken from 16 of the dead, revealed the DNA of Yersinia pestis. As a result, scientists do not doubt the causes of these deaths.

Interestingly, the mass graves of plague victims have previously been found in London (“News.Science” wrote about their study). Here, the disease has spread like wildfire, as people in London were very tight. But until 2012, scientists have not found such mass graves of victims of the Black death in the rural areas.

it is Possible that people continued to live in these areas just like before, despite the deaths from the plague. In other words, they are still buried each of the deceased in a private grave.

“When people died, they were buried in the usual way – in individual graves nand the usual cemeteries. When you find a mass grave, this indicates a serious violation of the way of life. We think that is what happened in Thornton,” says Willmott.

hospital last studied medieval fraternal grave of victims of the black death 1the Map of the Abbey of Thornton, which indicates the location of mass graves, hospital and Abbey.Illustration of University of Sheffield/Antiquity Publications Ltd.

Usually dead people were buried in Lincolnshire on the site of the parish Church, located approximately 1.6 kilometers from the Abbey. But perhaps the plague had already claimed the life of a priest and the gravediggers, so the local community are unable to cope with the large number of deaths, says Willmott.

“And what did they do? They appealed to the canons who lived in the Abbey. And they have decided how to bury the dead,” adds the scientist.

In a mass grave bodies lie close to each other, but not to each other. The bodies of young and old people are mixed.

the Researchers found no personal belongings except a medieval buckle from the strap, which is likely to have fallen in a mass grave by accident (it was not possible to classify either of the dead).

the Location of the bodies indicates that they were buried in one day. However, the body of each victim of the plague was probably wrapped in a shroud (the cloth have long decayed, but that everyone who died was “swaddled” indicates the position of the bones of the skeleton), and also placed in the grave with great care by the clergy of the local hospital, the authors of the study.

At the beginning of 1350-ies of the Black death subsided in England, but it has claimed the lives of half the population of the country. And yet life continued, and within a century the population has reached its former level, said Willmott. He also added that mankind has been able to cope with this serious pandemic.

Scientific article on the results of the study presented in the publication Antiquity.

Add the Thupreviously in the spread of the Black death in Europe, scientists blamed the insects, having redeemed so rodents.

Text: To.Science