Thirteen skeletons were uncovered lying in two carefully laid out rows on the edge of Charterhouse Square in Farringdon, and are believe to be up to 660 years old.

Historical records reference a burial ground in the Farringdon area that opened during the Black Death plague in 1348. The limited written records suggest up to 50,000 people may have been buried in less than three years in the hastily established cemetery, which was used up to the 1500’s.

Despite significant development in the Farringdon area over the centuries, the lost burial ground, described in historical records as ‘no man’s land’, has never been located. Charterhouse Square had been identified as a possible site as it was one of the few locations in Farringdon to remain undeveloped for the past 700 years.

Crossrail’s archaeologists uncovered the skeletons 2.5 metres below the road that surrounds the gardens in Charterhouse Square, near to the former Carthusian Monastery.

The depth of the burials, the pottery dated up until 1350 found in the graves and the layout of the skeletons all point to the likelihood that the bodies were buried during the Black Death plague around 1349. The graves have been laid out in a similar formation as skeletons discovered in a Black Death burial site in east Smithfield in the late 1980’s.

Valuable scientific data on the Black Death

The skeletons are being excavated and taken for laboratory testing at the Museum of London, where scientists are hoping to map the DNA signature of the plague bacteria and possibly contribute to the discussion regarding what caused the Black Death. The bones may also be radio carbon dated in order to establish the burial dates.

Plague cannot survive for very long in the soil and the skeleton bones do not present any modern-day health risk.

Crossrail’s lead archaeologist, Jay Carver, said: ‘This is a highly significant discovery and we are left with many questions that we hope to answer. Tests on the skeletons are aimed at establishing their cause of death, whether they were plague victims or later London residents, how old they were and perhaps evidence of who they were. However at this early stage, the depth of the burials, the pottery found with the skeletons and they way they have been laid out all point towards this being part of a 14th century emergency burial ground.’

Once analysis of the bones has been completed, the skeletons will be treated in accordance with Crossrail’s license from the Ministry of Justice.

These are not the first skeletons to be found on a Crossrail project – archaeologists uncovered more than 300 burials at the New Cemetery near the site of the Bedlam Hospital at Liverpool Street dating from the 1500’s to 1700’s.