Ancient human remains can sometimes ‘speak’ to us through time and inform us not only of their own life stories, but how modern medical complaints came to be. Here is a case of a Franciscan friar’s mummified remains found in an old church in Ecuador that collapsed during an earthquake in 1949. The man, who died sometime in the mid-late 1500’s, appears to be over 80 years of age and to have possibly died of a chin fistula. What is the most interesting aspect of his burial is that he was found to have suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory disease. This disease appears to have originated in the Americas, although it is now spread worldwide. Scientists hope to be able to perhaps pinpoint the way in which the disease first took hold, mutated and was spread.
The scanty arches of St Oswald’s Priory lie tucked in a Gloucester suburb a few minutes walk from the cathedral. Once a place of great importance, it was the burial spot of Queen Aethelflaed, daughter of Alfred the Great. She was a warrior-queen who fought the Vikings. Henry of Huntingdon wrote this about her–
Heroic Elflede! great in martial fame,A man in valour, woman though in name:Thee warlike hosts, thee, nature too obey’d,Conqu’ror o’er both, though born by sex a maid.Chang’d be thy name, such honour triumphs bring.A queen by title, but in deeds a king.Heroes before the Mercian heroine quail’d:Caesar himself to win such glory fail’d
Her husband Aethelred was also buried at St Oswald’s and it is though they were attempting to found a new royal Mercian vault after the destruction of the one at Repton by the Norse invaders.
Recently, on the anniversary of the Queen’s death, a re-enactment was held in Gloucester with a funeral cortege bearing a ‘body’ arriving by water then passing through the town, past the cathedral and out to the priory.
As past of the commemorations, the local children were also asked to get involved with the local archaeologists, and a hitherto unknown tower belonging to St Oswald’s appears to have been found.
Maybe futher excavation might also find the bones of this ancient Queen, although it seems most likely her remains and that of her husband and St Oswald himself were moved around in the 11/12c rebuildingof the priory, and then everything was destroyed in the Reformation, leaving little above ground
Here is what little Lady Anne Mowbray may have looked like. She was the child bride of one of the so-called Princes in the Tower, the younger one, Richard, Duke of York. Her burial was recently extensively covered by sparkypus here. Now The Times has come up with an article about the reconstruction of this little girl’s face. Here is the article in full, for those who need to see past the paywall – note that it does not mention John Ashdown-Hill, whose research this is. His latest Lady Eleanor article is on pp.35-7 of the current Bulletin and Bruce Watson’s on pp.37-8.
“The face of a Plantagenet princess has been reconstructed from her skeleton, while her bones and hair have yielded data on her stature and health at the time of her death in 1481. The remains of Lady Anne Mowbray also have the potential to illuminate one of English history’s greatest mysteries: the fate of the Princes in the Tower.
“Lady Anne was the daughter of the Duke of Norfolk, his only child and, after his death in 1476, the greatest heiress in England. Edward IV got papal leave to have her married to his younger son, Richard, Duke of York, in 1478, although she was related to the Plantagenets and both were legally too young to marry.
“However, Anne died before her ninth birthday, leaving Richard a widower at the age of eight. Interred in Westminster Abbey, she was later ejected by Henry VII in 1502 when he built his own mortuary chapel at the eastern end.
“Her coffin was then reburied in St Clare’s Abbey near Aldgate, the home of her mother, the dowager duchess of Norfolk.
“In 1964 a digging machine uncovered her vault while clearing wartime bomb damage, as Bruce Watson reports in Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society.
“Dr Francis Celoria of the London Museum (now the Museum of London) realised from the finely engraved plate on the lead coffin who was inside it and set up a multidisciplinary scientific investigation to study her remains.
“A fuss in parliament and in the press about the failure to obtain a burial licence curtailed the study, and its results have never been fully published. They do, however, show that she was about 4ft 4in tall — small for a modern child of nine, but the norm until the late 19th century due to deficiencies in diet.
“Her hair had high levels of arsenic and antimony, perhaps from her medicines, and she seems to have suffered from ill-health. When her body was prepared for burial her shroud appears to have been treated with beeswax and decorated with gold leaf or thread, and a separate cloth covered her face.
” “Individuals like Anne who are precisely dated are vital, so her remains are of international importance. A recent survey of more than 4,600 juvenile burials from 95 British medieval and early post-medieval sites included no named individuals”, so their precise dates of birth and death could not be ascertained, Mr Watson notes.
“Of more general interest was a congenital dental anomaly — missing upper and lower permanent second molars on the left side — that Lady Anne shared with the two juvenile skeletons found in the Tower of London in 1674, assumed to be those of her husband, Richard Duke of York, and his brother, King Edward V (the Princes in the Tower). The bones, which are interred in a splendid marble urn in Westminster Abbey, have not been examined since 1933, but reanalysis of photographs has suggested that the two juveniles were 13½-14½ and 11½-12½ years old when they died.
“If they were indeed the bones of Edward V and his brother, then the overlapping spans show that they could have died in 1484, pinning the blame on their uncle, King Richard III (The Times, May 21, 1987). A slightly later date in the reign of Henry VII is also possible, Mr Watson says, but “the debate over the identity of these undated juveniles will continue until their remains are re-examined. They could be radiocarbon dated and DNA extracted to confirm if they are related to each other and to Richard III.”
“Since Richard’s skeleton was discovered five years ago and intensively studied before his reburial in 2015, his DNA is available and a link through the male Plantagenet line could be established, Mr Watson notes.
Despite many suggestions in recent decades that the putative remains of the Princes in the Tower should be subjected to the minimal sampling needed using modern technology, the authorities at Westminster Abbey (a “Royal Peculiar” outside the Church of England’s control) have resisted.
” “It is extremely rare for the remains of named pre-Reformation individuals to be studied in England,” Mr Watson says. Richard III’s rapid interment without perhaps even a shroud was “completely untypical and can be attributed to the unexpected manner of his death”. Anne Mowbray’s burial was that of an aristocrat with royal links and “undoubtedly of value to our understanding of death and burial during the late 15th century”. The new reconstruction shows us how her princely bridegroom may have seen her. ”
No doubt archaeologists thought all their Christmases had arrived at once when first they heard the breaking news of the building of Crossrail, Europe’s largest infrastructure – which will be called the Elizabeth line and will open in phases from late 2018 – and the exceptional opportunities the excavations would bring. However, did they ever imagine in their wildest dreams the wealth of artifacts that would be unearthed ranging from bison bones, 68000 years old, found at Royal Oak near Paddington, through the medieval period to Roman finds including a burial site beneath the area that once covered Liverpool Street Station. Since the work begun in 2009 archaeologists have unearthed ‘tens of thousands of items’ from 40 sites spanning 55 millions years of London’s history and prehistory (1).The new railway will run from east to west through some of London’s most historical areas. It has been described as a ‘layer cake of history hidden below the city’s streets’.
CROSSRAIL ‘LAYER CAKE’ OF OLD LONDON
LIVERPOOL STREET STATION
Some of the most interesting finds were discovered beneath Liverpool Street Station which stands right in the heart of what was once medieval London. Of particular interest was the south-east corner where the ticket office once stood for this had been built over the Bedlam burial grounds (later known as Bethlehem Hospital) which had been in use since 1247 to 1815. Eighty archaeologists worked on the site retrieving thousands of objects. A total of 4,000 burials was uncovered including a plague pit containing 30 victims from the Great Plague of 1665.
One of the most poignant finds, a necklace that was found on the skeleton of a baby (modern re-stringing). The beads are amber, white amber, cornelian, glass and bone.
Plague victim from the mass pit aged 17-25 probably male.
Grave Marker for Mary Godfree, a victim of the Great Plague who died 2 September 1665.
Excavation beneath that layer revealed a Roman burial ground. Intriguingly several of the Roman skeletons were laid out neatly with their skulls between their legs. The archaeologists have no explanation for this and perhaps its best left at that, a mystery.
CHARTERHOUSE SQUARE AND FARRINGDON
A large ditch was excavated to the south of Charterhouse Square. It may be the remains of Faggeswell Brook which flowed into the Fleet River, the ditch formed the southern boundary of the cemetery and Charterhouse Monastery, founded in 1371 and suppressed in 1538. Included in the items found, which had been dumped in the ditch to fill it in between 1580 and 1640 were leather shoes, parts of a horse harness dating back to the late 1500s , pottery and floor tiles dated to 1300 probably from the monastery. The remains of a cemetery were discovered containing the remains of victims of the Black Death dating from 1348/9. Twenty-five skeletons were discovered buried in three layers.
TWO MEN IN THEIR 40S BURIED HOLDING HANDS FROM ONE OF THE LAYERS OF THE CHARTERHOUSE BURIAL PLOT
WORCESTER HOUSE, STEPNEY GREEN
Reconstruction of moated Worcester House, built around 1450
Worcester House, a 15th century moated manor house built about 1450 probably on the site of an earlier house was previously known as King John’s Palace. Rubbish thrown into the moat gives an insight into the lives of those who lived there. Among the many artifacts found were leather shoes, the remains of a horse harness dating from the late 1500s, dress pins, and a wooden ball which was probably used as a ‘jack’ in a game of bowls or skittles. Henry Vlll is known to have loved bowls but banned poor people from playing it.
16th century leather shoe
Tudor Dress pin
WOODEN BALL USED FOR PLAYING BOWLS
However, this is not the end of the story for this old Manor House, for when the archeologists had finished over 4 tonnes of bricks were donated to English Heritage for restoring England’s Tudor buildings.
I have merely touched here upon a few of the wealth of wonderful finds from the Crossrail Archaeology. Anyone wishing to delve deeper can find some excellent links to informative websites such as this.
Tunnel: The Archaeology of Crossrail (Jackie Kelly, p8).
This excellent post from Nerdalicious, whose tabs appropriately include “History of Folk and Fairy Tales”, shows just how desperately ridiculous the Cairo case really is, particularly when they treat More’s first half as a Fifth Gospel and ignore his second.