Mass grave containing 48 skeletons belonging to victims of the Black Death unearthed in England along with a small pendent that was used to cure ‘St Anthony’s fire’

  • A mass grave of 48 skeletons was found in Thornton Abbey, Lincolnshire
  • The victims died of the Black Death that plagued Europe in the 14th century
  • The skeletons were both male and female, along with 27 children
  • Archaeologists also discovered a Tau Cross thought to cure St Anthony’s Fire
  • St Anthony’s Fire is a skin disease that causes the person to feel on fire 

It has been over 650 years since the Black Death spread through Europe, but archaeologist are still finding haunting reminders of its rampage.

A mass grave of 48 skeletons was recently discovered at the site of a 14th-century monastery hospital at Thornton Abbey, Lincolnshire.

The burial contained remains of both male and female adults, as well 27 children.

In addition to the skeletal remains, a Tau Cross pendant was found at the scene that was believed to have treated St. Anthony’s fire – a skin condition that made victims feel as if their limbs were on fire.

It has been over 650 years since the Black Death spread through Europe, but archaeologist are still finding haunting reminders of its rampage. A mass grave of 48 skeletons was recently discovered at the site of a 14th-century monastery hospital at Thornton Abbey, Lincolnshire

The Black Death, which ravaged Europe from 1346–1353, was caused by a bacterium called Yersinia pestis that can cause several forms of plague and can be transmitted to humans by fleas.

Black rats, which were abundant along trade routes, acted as carriers of the plague when fleas hitched a ride on their backs.

It is estimated, that some 200 million people lost their lives to this horrific plague.

Dr. Hugh Willmott from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Archaeology, has been working on the excavation site in Lincolnshire since 2011.

‘Despite the fact it is now estimated that up to half the population of England perished during the Black Death, multiple graves associated with the event are extremely rare in this country, and it seems local communities continued to dispose of their loved ones in as ordinary a way as possible,’ he said.

The Black Death, which ravaged Europe from 1346–1353, was caused by a bacterium called Yersinia pestis that can cause several forms of plague and can be transmitted to humans by fleas

It is estimated, that some 200 million people lost their lives to this horrific plague. Dr. Hugh Willmott from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Archaeology, has been working on the excavation site in Lincolnshire since 2011

‘The only two previously identified 14th-century sites where Yersinia pestis (the bacterium responsible for the plague) has been identified are historically documented cemeteries in London, where the civic authorities were forced to open new emergency burial grounds to cope with the very large numbers of the urban dead.’

‘The finding of a previously unknown and completely unexpected mass burial dating to this period in a quiet corner of rural Lincolnshire is thus far unique, and sheds light into the real difficulties faced by a small community ill prepared to face such a devastating threat.’

Dr. Willmott added: ‘While skeletons are interesting, they just represent the end of somebody’s life and actually what we are interested in as archaeologists is the life they led before they died.’

‘One of the ways we can connect with that is through the everyday objects they left behind.

Among the skeletal remains was a small gold pendant called a Tau Cross.

This piece was believed to cure St Anthony’s fire, which is a skin condition that makes the person feel as if their limbs are on fire.

The pendant is circular with a ‘T’ in the center that is etched with different designs.

In addition to the skeletal remains, a Tau Cross pendant was found at the scene that was believed to have treated St. Anthony’s fire – a skin condition that made victims feel as if their limbs were on fire

The team is sending the remains to a lab and there DNA samples will be analysed. Dr. Diana Mahoney Swales, from the University of Sheffield’s Department for Lifelong Learning, who is leading the study of the bodies, said: ‘Once the skeletons return to the lab we start properly learning who these people really are’

The team is sending the remains to a lab and there DNA samples will be analysed.

Dr. Diana Mahoney Swales, from the University of Sheffield’s Department for Lifelong Learning, who is leading the study of the bodies, said: ‘Once the skeletons return to the lab we start properly learning who these people really are.’

‘We do this by identifying whether they are male or female, children or adults.’

‘And then we start to investigate the diseases that they may have lived through, such as metabolic diseases like rickets and scurvy which are degenerative diseases for the skeleton.

‘However for diseases such as plague, which are lethal, we have to use ancient DNA analysis to investigate that further.’

WHAT WAS BRITAIN LIKE IN THE 14TH CENTURY?

During the 14th Century, Britain was in the depths of the Dark Ages. 

Child mortality was high, up to a third of all children did not survive past the age of five due to illness, disease and poor medical knowledge. 

Up to 20 per cent of women would die during child birth or because of post-birth infections.

If a person survived a risky childhood and lived in a time without war, the average life expectancy peaked at around 40-45 years of age.

The House of Plantagenet were the royals that oversaw the entire century; from Charles III through to the deposition of Richard II in 1399.

In the middle of the century, a four year span between 1347 to 1351 saw one of the worst pandemics of all time – The Black Death.

It killed an estimated 200 million people – between 30 and 60 per cent of the total European population.

The Oriental rat flea was infected with the Yersinia pestis bacterium which spread the plague through the dirty streets and villages that were so popular during this era as hygiene and germs were not understood. 

As well as one of the worst cases of diseases in human history which killed millions of people, scores of people perished due to a lack of food thanks to The Great Famine which spanned from 1315 to 1317.

Poor weather conditions saw a terrible yield of grains and caused a Europe-wide food shortage.

Starvation accounted for millions of death and a rise in crime, cannibalism and infanticide during this time.

If childbirth, diseases, plague or starvation didn’t cause a premature death many people met their end in a more violent manner as conflicts were commonplace. 

The Hundred Years’ War (which lasted 116 years from 1337 to 1453) was a series of conflicts waged between the kingdoms of England and France over the ‘rightful’ succession to the French throne.  

In 1381, the working-class people snapped back at the affluent rulers in the ‘Great Rising’ or the ‘Peasants revolt’ in which 1,500 rebels died in protest against poor living conditions and increasing taxes.  

 

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