Eerie Black Death mass grave with dozens of bodies unearthed after 700 years – all 'buried within weeks'

ANALYSIS of a medieval mass grave has confirmed that the 48 individuals inside died during the Black Death in the UK.

The ancient pit was discovered in Thornton Abbey Lincolnshire and dates back to the 14th century.

This discovery is being labelled as nationally important because it provides fresh insight into how the deadly pandemic affected rural communities.

The Black Death, also known as the bubonic plague, resulted in the deaths of half of England's population.

This pandemic occurred between 1348 and 1349, although there have been other instances of similar plagues throughout history.

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of archaeological evidence from this time period.

This is why the Thornton Abbey mass grave is such a unique discovery.

It was previously thought that rural areas weren't as affected by the plague as urban settings, where more mass graves have been found.

Experts have assumed that burial practices could continue as normal in the countryside but the 48 individuals in the Lincolnshire grave suggest otherwise.

The mass grave was first discovered back in 2013 by researchers from the University of Sheffield.

Analysis of the skeletons found was recently published in the journal Antiquity.

Poor preservation at the site indicates there may have been even more bodies that have disintegrated.

The 48 skeletons appear to have been buried within days of each other.

The bodies, many of them bound in shrouds, are thought to have been placed in the grave with care.

A single catastrophic event is likely to have killed these medieval people and that event is now thought to have been the Black Death.

A total of 17 child skeletons were found amongst the remains.

This shows the mass death would have devastated all aspects of the local community.

The plague pathogen, Yersinia pestis, has now been confirmed as present in the sample of the skeletal remains.

Radiocarbon dating and artefacts like pottery and pennies have helped to date the deaths back to the mid-14th century.

This coincides with the initial outbreak of Black Death in early 1349, although other outbreaks did occur later in the 14th century.

A large stone building was also discovered near the grave, which is thought to have been the medieval hospital of St James.

A brief history of the plague

Here are the key facts…

  • Plague has a remarkable place in history and has had enormous effects on the development of modern civilisation.
  • Some scholars have even suggested that the collapse of the Roman Empire may be linked to the spread of plague by Roman soldiers returning home from battle in the Persian Gulf in 165 AD.
  • For centuries, plague represented disaster for people living in Asia, Africa and Europe and because the cause of plague was unknown, plague outbreaks contributed to massive panic in cities and countries where it appeared.
  • Numerous references in art, literature and monuments attest to the horrors and devastation of past plague epidemics.
  • We now know that plague is caused by a bacterium called Yersinia pestis that often infects small rodents (like rats, mice, and squirrels) and is usually transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected flea.
  • In the past, black rats were the most commonly infected animals and hungry rat fleas would jump from their recently-dead rat hosts to humans, looking for a blood meal.
  • Pneumonic plague, a particular form of plague infection, is instead transmitted through infected droplets in a sick person’s cough.
  • Together, the Pneumonic and Bubonic plague (black death) killed an estimated 200 million people in the 14th Century

(Source: US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention)

In other archaeology news, new research suggests Neanderthals ate dolphins and sharks.

A stolen ancient Roman missile has been returned by a thief who fears coronavirus.

And, a mysterious ring of mammoth bones built by our ancient ancestors has left scientists puzzled.

What do you make of this Black Death discovery? Let us know in the comments…

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