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Medieval cemetery found under Cambridge college

More than 1,200 human skeletons discovered beneath a Cambridge college will help shed new light on the city's medieval past.

Medieval cemetery found under Cambridge college
Archaeologists at the medieval cemetery beneath St John's College 
[Credit: Cambridge News]
The medieval cemetery was discovered by archaeologists working at the Old Divinity School at St John's College, which was built on the site of a 13th century hospital.

The remains of men, women and children were uncovered from the former Hospital of St John the Evangelist, which was in use from 1200-1500, and gave the college its name.

Now the remains will be used for a major new research project, to further our understanding of life in medieval England.

Cambridge University's McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research has received a £1.2 million grant for a four-year study into the effects of the Black Death in Cambridge.

A spokesman said: "This collaborative project, with Professor John Robb as PI and collaborators Dr Toomas Kivisild, Dr Piers Mitchell, and Mr Craig Cessford, explores the historical effects of major health events such as epidemics.

Medieval cemetery found under Cambridge college
More than 1,200 skeletons were discovered at the site of a medieval hospital beneath St John's College 
[Credit: Cambridge News]
"It will combine multiple methods (archaeology, history, osteoarchaeology, isotopic and genetic studies of both human and pathogen aDNA) to study the people of medieval Cambridge.

"It will use the recently excavated large sample of urban poor people from the Hospital of St. John, complemented by comparative samples from other medieval social contexts and other historical periods."

Craig Cessford was senior officer on the project, which first began in 2005.

Last year, when the discovery was announced, he told the News the cemetery, which contained neat gravel paths and a water well, was primarily used to serve the city's poor.

"Evidence for clothing and grave-goods is rarer than at most hospital cemeteries", he said.

"Principally because this was a purely lay graveyard with no clerics present."

By comparing samples from before and after the Black Death epidemic of 1348-50 for a wide range of social and biological indicators, this new research aims to reveal how the plague changed human well-being, activity, mobility health and the genetic constitution of Europe.

The project is funded by the Wellcome Trust.

Source: Cambridge News [May 18, 2016]

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