Crossrail tunnel project uncovers ancient burial ground - including Bedlam patients

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Archaeologist for London rail programme say thousands of bodies of plague victims and asylum inmates could be uncovered, along with Roman road

Crossrail, Britain's biggest construction project and the biggest archaeological dig in London for years, has uncovered everything from a Roman road to a 2,000-year-old horseshoe. And now the bones of long-dead Londoners have been added to the haul.

And some of the archaeologists' most delicate work involves remains from the Bedlam burial ground, established in the 16th century underneath where Liverpool St station now stands.

Thousands of Londoners were buried in the grounds for a period of about 150 years, from paupers to religious nonconformists to patients at the adjacent Bedlam Hospital, the world's first psychiatric asylum. Its name, a corruption of Bethlehem, became a synonym for chaos.

Crossrail's lead archaeologist, Jay Carver, said the project would eventually involve disinterring the remains of about 4,000 people.

The archaeologists are finding remnants as deep as six metres below street level - the level that Roman streets have been pushed down to by 2,000 years of development.

"This site is a rare, perhaps unprecedented opportunity," said Nick Elsden from the Museum of London.

"This is a major roadway outside one of London's busiest railway stations. You don't get to dig that up normally."

In other parts of London, archaeologists say they have unearthed objects that prove the city was a substantial settlement as early as 9,000 years ago - just one of a handful of sites that prove this.

A Mesolithic tool making factory dated to about 7,000 BC was found at archaeology experts at Crossrail’s tunnelling worksite in North Woolwich.

The find includes 150 pieces of flint, including blades, and archaeologists believe pre-historic Londoners tested and prepared river cobbles used to make flint tools before taking them to another site to complete the process.

The recently discovered Roman road is made of rammed earth, clay, wood and human bones, washed by a river from a nearby cemetery and incorporated into the building material.

An archaeologist displays Roman Sestertius brass coin from around AD 30 with an image of the Emperor Hadrian which was dug out from the Crossrail site next to Liverpool Street Station A Roman Sestertius brass coin from around AD 30  

"We tend to think in the past they were superstitious about bodies, but no," Elsden said. "Bits of bodies are washing around out of cemeteries - they're not that worried about it."

Crossrail's lead archaeologist, Jay Carver, said the project would eventually involve disinterring the remains of about 4,000 people. Earlier this year, the dig unearthed skeletons belonging to victims of the Black Death, the plague that wiped out half of London's population in 1348.

An archaeologist digs out skeletons from the site of the graveyard of the Bedlam, hospital An archaeologist digs out skeletons  

It appears that in Roman times, as now, the area around Liverpool St was a busy thoroughfare, with horses bringing produce from the countryside to residents of what was then known as Londinium. Roman horseshoes, made of metal and fastened to the hooves with leather straps have been found on the road.

And  a gold coin from the 16th century, similar to those used by the wealthy and royal as a sequin or pendent, has been discovered at the Liverpool Street station site.

"Roman horseshoes, stuck in a rut of the Roman road - you've got this unique little snapshot," Elsden said. "You can see a Roman pulling his cart across the bridge. That's a rare little glimpse into ordinary Roman life."

An archaeologist displays a 16th century Venetian gold coin, perforated to be worn as jewellery, which was dug out from the Crossrail site A 16th century Venetian gold coin, perforated to be worn as jewelery  

Bedlam is known to contain the remains of several prominent historical figures, including the Leveller Robert Lockyer, a member of the 17th century political movement committed to social justice.

He was executed at St Paul's cathedral in 1649 by firing squad for leading an army mutiny, before being buried at the graveyard.

"If you find someone who's been executed with a musket, that's going to leave some kind of damage," said Carver. "It would be quite exciting if we could identify someone in that way."

A handout photograph released by Crossrail showing 15th century shoes similar to those worn by Henry VIII 15th century shoes similar to those worn by Henry VIII  

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific