Nearly 10,000 skeletons found in mass graves hidden under British city
The remains of more than 300 people have been found weekly at the height of the year-long excavation in Hull. Iron cages have been found around some coffins to stop body thieves
Image: Motorways England)
A huge 12-month archaeological dig uncovered the remains of nearly 10,000 people.
At its peak, more than 300 people were found each week as 90 employees got to work to uncover the secrets of the Hull site.
The site was originally dedicated in July 1785 as a solution to an emergency situation at what was then Holy Trinity Church in Old Town Hull, where space in the medieval cemetery was quickly running out.
The new cemetery was used for burials until 1861 and during this period over 43,000 burials were recorded in the parish register, Live shell reports.
Project manager Stephen Rowland said: ‘Although some of these people are known to have been buried in the original medieval cemetery just around the church, the majority are believed to be in Trinity Cemetery. on Castle Street.
“At the height of the excavation work, around 90 employees were working on the project in a variety of roles and the remains of around 300 people were being searched every week.
“Further analysis of the finds and remains of approximately 9,500 people who have been carefully and respectfully excavated will continue before they are reburied.
“The reburial takes place in an excavated trench which is in part of the cemetery and outside the road imprint.”
While the physical work of digging deep into the history of the ancient Trinity Cemetery is mostly completed, experts on the Oxford Archeology North project team will soon begin detailed desktop data studies of their finds.
Mr Rowland said his team’s work at the site over the past 12 months has already uncovered a wealth of information about Hull’s population, as it began to increase rapidly in the late 18th century.
“The most orderly burials were in several rows near a path leading from the main entrance in the central-eastern part.
“They are believed to be wealthier individuals, some of whom had well-furnished coffins filled with an array of decorative accessories and occupied brick graves of various designs.
“In several cases, we have identified devices, called death safes, which were installed to prevent the theft of bodies, a contemporary practice common and attested to in Trinity Cemetery by various historical sources.
“Most of them consist of simple iron straps placed around the wooden coffin, but a burial has demonstrated the use of larger measures.
William Watkinson was buried by his fellow engineers after a boiler he was inspecting fell on his head.
“A piece of boiler plate was incorporated into the tombstone, and three iron boiler plates were placed in the tomb, above the coffin, which was encased in an iron cage.
“Although such structures have been found elsewhere in the country, these have rarely been found archaeologically in the north of England.”
Mr Rowland said many artifacts had also been recovered, many of which had a direct link to burials.
“The most common were simple copper alloy pins used to secure shrouds, casket liners, clothing, and hair to ensure the corpse was presentable when viewed.
“There were many clothing accessories and personal ornaments, including buttons of many different designs and materials, hair combs, jewelry and Dutch coins.
“There was also a plethora of more unusual items. We were rather surprised to find a conch shell – maybe it was a souvenir from overseas trips?
An unpretentious blue glass bead has also been identified as a trade pearl. They are frequently found in European colonies and Africa, where they were part of a chain of goods traded for slaves.
“These are not often recognized in British contexts and some may have been mistaken for earlier beads from the Saxon and Roman periods, when they were found as isolated objects.
“Several plaque burials were also found, which is exactly what it sounds like – the individual was buried with a ceramic plaque.
“It is possible that these plaques once contained salt, believed to have protective properties and to be a symbol of eternal life and several examples of these have been found in post-medieval cemeteries in London and Birmingham.”
Mr Rowland said laboratory work at the site is now complete and analysis of the osteological data is about to begin.
“This will allow the study of themes such as patterns of mortality in the population and patterns of health and disease,” he explained.
“However, preliminary observations made during recording suggest a high prevalence of deficiency diseases, such as rickets and scurvy, a high incidence of nasal fractures in adults, poor dental health, and the presence of diseases such as tuberculosis and syphilis. “
Some of the skeletons also featured examples of some of the surgeries used during the period.
Mr Rowland said: “Scarred amputations and a rare example of a scarred hole that had been drilled in a skull provided evidence of surgeries.
“There was also autopsy evidence, mainly in the form of craniotomies, where the skull was cut open postmortem to observe the brain.
“One coffin contained the remains of three anatomized individuals where numerous post-mortem cuts to the bones indicated that they were probably corpses used for teaching.”