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Detection and characterisation of Black Death burials by multi-proxy geophysical methods

Dick, Henry C.; Pringle, Jamie K.; Sloane, Barney; Carver, Jay; Wisniewski, Kristopher D.; Haffenden, Austin; Porter, Stephen; Roberts, Daniel; Cassidy, Nigel J.

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Authors

Henry C. Dick

Barney Sloane

Jay Carver

Kristopher D. Wisniewski

Austin Haffenden

Stephen Porter

Daniel Roberts

Nigel J. Cassidy



Abstract

The construction of the new Crossrail railway discovered 25 well preserved skeletons shallowly buried in Central London in 2013. Subsequent carbon dating and aDNA analysis confirmed the archaeological age and presence of the Yersinia pestis “Black Death” plague epidemic strain. Here we present the non-invasive multi-proxy geophysical survey of the adjacent Charterhouse Square, rapidly undertaken to detect any further burials and characterise the site. Historical records suggested the area was a burial ground for Black Death plague victims, before subsequent cemetery and urban land use. Following initial trial surveys, surveys imaged ~200 isolated and similar-sized burials in the south-west of the site. There were also two contrasting burial orientations present at various depths which suggested a series of controlled phased burials. A well-defined eastern burial boundary, taking the form of a ditch and bank, was also discovered. Geophysical surveys also identified a subsequent complex site history with multiple-aged features. This study revises knowledge of Black Death aged-burials and provides important implications for successful geophysical burial detection with significant time- and space-limited site constraints.

Citation

Dick, H. C., Pringle, J. K., Sloane, B., Carver, J., Wisniewski, K. D., Haffenden, A., …Cassidy, N. J. (2015). Detection and characterisation of Black Death burials by multi-proxy geophysical methods. Journal of Archaeological Science, 59, 132-141. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2015.04.010

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 23, 2015
Online Publication Date May 4, 2015
Publication Date 2015-07
Journal Journal of Archaeological Science
Print ISSN 0305-4403
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 59
Pages 132-141
DOI https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2015.04.010
Keywords burials, plague, Black Death, London, geophysics
Publisher URL https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2015.04.010

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