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Cremated human bones may confirm theory they are from Boudicca’s rebellion

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Author Topic: Cremated human bones may confirm theory they are from Boudicca’s rebellion  (Read 177 times)
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« on: May 02, 2015, 01:05:29 am »

The excavations at the Crossrail archaeology site near Liverpool Street, London. Photograph: Graham Turner

This one small site, part of a massive archaeology programme as Crossrail carves its route across the capital and through two millennia of its history, has produced a mass of Roman and medieval objects, as well as thousands of skeletons from a 17th-century burial ground which became the last resting place of thousands of victims of the last great plague of London in 1665.

Finds include 15 Roman iron horseshoes, more than from any other London site – expensive objects which the archaeologists assume were accidentally shed and then trampled into the surface of the road. “They would have been expensive to make and expensive to replace, but they were obviously clunky, clumsy affairs – and clearly they hadn’t perfected the technique of getting them to stay on,” Carver said.

A little gilt bronze phallus, a valuable lucky charm, was probably lost when the ring holding it to a belt or garment broke, and a shackle just the right size to secure an ankle is a reminder that slavery was a pillar of the Roman empire.

Crossrail digging unearths diverse and ancient London burial ground

The road leading to the river was an excellent example of Roman engineering, part of what Carver describes as the North Circular passing all the main gates in the city walls. It was heavily used, regularly repaired, and completely resurfaced at least three times, preserving cart ruts several layers below the final surface.

For more than 1,000 years the site was a grotty, smelly bit of working-class London outside the city walls, a place where no travellers on the Roman road would have wanted to linger. On Thursday, a digger punched through the floor of what was a 19th-century underground lavatory, releasing a pungent reek of marsh gas and Victorian sewage. The buildings were shoddy structures, probably workshops. Rubbish dumps yielded skiploads of evidence of medieval industries including leather tanning, a notoriously smelly trade.

The land became the gardens and orchards of a medieval monastery complex which became the famous Bedlam mental hospital, the oldest in the world. It was still open land when in 1569 a two-acre plot was bought for a new burial ground because the small city church graveyards were full to bursting. The Bethlem burial ground took its name from the hospital which had recently moved to nearby Moorfields and held not just poor unclaimed inmates of the asylum, but people of all classes from across the capital. It was in use from 1569 until 1738, and so eventually held thousands of victims of the great plague, the last major outbreak which devastated London in 1665.
Archaeologists working at Crossrail’s project site in the City of London unearthed 20 Roman skulls back in 2013

The archaeologists from Museum of London Archaeology worked all the hours of daylight to excavate the remains, eventually recovering more than 2,500 skeletons, far more than expected from a swimming pool sized site. During the worst plague months, they found people were being buried seven or eight to each pit.

Volunteers are attempting to compile a complete burial list for the cemetery, but when the excavation began Carver was not optimistic about identifying any individuals, as the records were scattered across all the original parishes of the dead.

To his surprise they have found tiny nails from the decayed wood of several coffins which spell out initials and dates. Several broken tombstones have also been found reused in a Georgian wall, including that of Mary Godfree who died at the height of the plague in September 1665.

One small section remains to be excavated this summer, so Carver has not given up all hope of finding two of the most famous people known to have been buried there, the Levellers and Cromwellian soldiers John Lilburne and Robert Lockyer. Lockyer was executed by firing squad in 1649 for his radical political beliefs.

“I’ve had to warn the Levellers Association that our site is only about 20% of the original burial ground. But if he was buried in our section, more than 4,000 people are said to have followed his funeral procession – I can’t believe he would have gone into his grave without something to identify his coffin. We might yet find him.”
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