Work On New Railway Line Digs Up London History


Thousands of Londoners were buried there over 150 years, from paupers to religious nonconformists to patients at the adjacent Bedlam Hospital, the world’s first psychiatric asylum. Its name, a corruption of Bethlehem, became a synonym for chaos.

Jay Carver, Crossrail’s lead archaeologist, says the project will mean disinterring the remains of about 4,000 people.

Workers will treat the remains with delicacy and respect, practices not always followed in the past.

The recently discovered Roman road is made of rammed earth, clay, wood and – surprisingly – human bones, washed by a river from a nearby cemetery and incorporated into the building material.

“We tend to think in the past they were superstitious about bodies, but no,” Elsden said. “Bits of bodies are washing around out of cemeteries – they’re not that worried about it.”

Centuries later, gravestones from the Bedlam cemetery were used as foundations of later buildings, and the soil has yielded pieces of bone, antler, tortoiseshell and ivory – leftovers from local craft workshops dumped over the cemetery wall in the 17th century.

The newly excavated human remains will be studied for clues to diet and disease before being reinterred elsewhere.

Most of them will, of necessity, be reburied anonymously. But Carver holds out hope that research may be able to identify some individuals. The Bedlam graveyard is known to contain the remains of several prominent people, including Robert Lockyer, a member of an egalitarian 17th-century political movement known as the Levelers.

Lockyer was executed by firing squad at St. Paul’s Cathedral after leading an army mutiny in 1649 before being buried at Bedlam.

“If you find someone who’s been executed with a musket, that’s going to leave some kind of damage,” Carver said. “It would be quite exciting if we could identify someone in that way.”

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Posted by on Sep 3rd, 2013 and filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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