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Skeletons Found in Central London May Lead to 50,000 Bodies that Died from Bubonic Plague

Update Date: Mar 15, 2013 02:50 PM EDT
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It seems that skeletons are always cropping up beneath parking lots in the United Kingdom. Archaeologists have found 13 skeletons beneath the ground in central London. If the skeletons indeed belong to the bodies of people killed by the bubonic plague, it could perhaps tip off the discovery of as many as 50,000 bodies that have gone undiscovered since the disease outbreak.

According to NPR, the skeletons were found beneath the road when surveyors examined land in central London. The transportation effort, part of the Crossrail line, is an ambitious project that intends to connect towns in the west and in the east of England 73 miles away from one another, and connect them through London. Because the project will cross London with a lot of intersecting lines, the project developers brought on board archaeologists to examine any discoveries.

It's a good thing that the archaeologists were on the team though, because the bodies' finding appears to be groundbreaking. The skeletons are believed to be about 660 years ago, placing them well within the time frame of the plague. The skeletons were buried just 2.5 meters below the surface and, though researchers need to perform a lot more work to confirm the hypothesis, the pottery found with the skeletons indicates that they were buried during the Plague. Researchers are in the midst of taking the bodies to the Museum of London Archaeology, hoping that they can map the DNA of the Black Plague in an attempt to ascertain just what made it so deadly.

In fact, the bodies could just be the tip of the iceberg. Historical records refer to a burial ground called a "no man's land" housing 50,000 people. They were all buried in a hastily chosen cemetery over the course of just three years.

"This is a highly significant discovery and at the moment we are left with many questions that we hope to answer," Crossrail lead archaeologist Jay Carver said in a statement. "We will be undertaking scientific tests on the skeletons over the coming months to establish their cause of death, whether they were Plague victims from the 14th Century or later London residents, how old they were and perhaps evidence of who they were."

According to CNN, the Bubonic Plague outbreak in Europe killed between 20 and 30 million people. In the mid-19th century, a similar outbreak in China killed 12 million. Today, the Bubonic Plague still exists, but 6 out of 7 people who contract the illness survive, thanks to modern medicine. It is generally transmitted through contact with animals, not from person to person.

The bodies found by Crossrail pose no modern danger. The bacteria cannot live in the soil, and has been long dead by now.

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