In 2018, archaeologists made a shocking discovery in London: a mass grave containing over 30 victims of the Black Death pandemic that swept across Europe in the 14th century. The discovery sheds new light on the epidemic’s impact on medieval Londoners and provides new evidence about the disease’s spread and transmission.
New Evidence about the Spread and Transmission of the Black Death
The Black Death, also known as the bubonic plague, was one of the deadliest pandemics in human history. It originated in Asia and spread westward along trade routes, reaching Europe in the mid-14th century. The disease killed an estimated 25 million people, or about one-third of the European population, in just a few years.
The Black Death mass grave in London was discovered during excavations for the Crossrail project, a new railway line that runs through the city. The skeletons found in a burial ground in the Farringdon neighborhood were dated to the mid-14th century and showed signs of the disease.
The archaeologists found evidence of the Black Death’s horrific impact on the victims. Some skeletons had broken bones, likely caused by the convulsions and seizures that often accompanied the disease. Many of the skulls showed signs of lesions, abscesses, and other dental and cranial problems associated with the plague. The bodies were buried in a haphazard and overcrowded manner, indicating the speed and desperation with which they were interred.
The discovery of the Black Death mass grave in London provides new insights into the impact of the pandemic on medieval society. It reveals that the disease affected people from all social classes, not just the poor and marginalized. The victims in the mass grave were likely from the lower middle class, as they were buried in a cemetery associated with a parish church.
A Grim Reminder: The London Mass Grave and the Continuing Threat of Pandemics
The discovery also sheds new light on the transmission of the disease. Historians have long debated how the Black Death spread so rapidly across Europe. Some have suggested that fleas carried by rats were the primary transmission vector. Others have proposed that human-to-human contact played a more significant role. The evidence from the London mass grave suggests that both factors may have contributed to the disease’s spread.
The skeletons in the mass grave showed signs of both bubonic and pneumonic plague, two different forms of the disease. Bubonic plague is transmitted by flea bites, while the pneumonic plague is spread through the air by coughing and sneezing. The presence of both forms of the disease in the same burial ground suggests that the pandemic may have spread through flea bites and human-to-human contact.
In conclusion, the Black Death mass grave in London is a haunting reminder of the devastating impact of the pandemic on medieval society. The discovery provides new insights into the transmission and spread of the disease and underscores the importance of understanding historical pandemics in the context of their social and cultural environments.