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UK Black Death pit has 27 child skeletons

Press Association logoPress Association 30/11/2016 Dave Higgens

More than half of 48 skeletons found in an "extremely rare" 14th-century Black Death burial pit are those of children, UK archaeologists say.

The mass burial has been uncovered at the site of a 14th-century monastery hospital at Thornton Abbey, near Immingham, in North Lincolnshire, by a team from Sheffield University.

The presence of such a large burial site - which included both male and female adults as well as 27 children - suggests the community was overwhelmed by Black Death and left unable to cope with the number of people who died, they said.

The Black Death was one of the worst pandemics in human history. It devastated European populations from 1346 to 1353 and resulted in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people.

The disease is documented to have reached Lincolnshire in the spring of 1349.

The team said they sent teeth samples from the skeletons found at the Thornton Abbey site to McMaster University in Canada, where ancient DNA was successfully extracted from the tooth pulp. DNA testing revealed the presence of Yersinia pestis, the bacterium responsible for the plague.

Hugh Willmott, Sheffield University's Department of Archaeology, said: "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."

The archaeologist, who has been working at the site since 2011, said items found at the abbey have also shed light on the lives of those who lived there.

He said one artefact found in the excavated hospital building was a small Tau Cross pendant, which some people thought was a cure for St Anthony's fire, a term used to describe a variety of skin conditions.

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