The skeletons will be excavated over the next four weeks by a team of 60 archaeologists. They will then dig through medieval marsh deposits and Roman remains. Archaeologists are expected to finish onsite in September, after which contractor Laing O’Rourke can resume construction on the new eastern ticket hall of Liverpool Street Station.
Already across the Crossrail project, archaeologists from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) have found more than 10,000 artefacts spanning 55 million years of London’s past across over 40 construction sites. Preliminary excavations at the Liverpool Street site in 2013 and 2014 uncovered more than 400 skeletons and numerous artefacts.
The Bedlam burial ground was London’s first municipal burial ground and was located just outside the original City Wall. It was in use from 1569 to at least 1738, spanning the Great Fire of London and numerous plague outbreaks. Archaeologists hope that tests on excavated plague victims will help understand the evolution of the plague bacteria strain.
There is also a Roman road running under the site, which has already yielded several Roman artefacts such as horseshoes and cremation urns.
MOLA project manager Nick Elsden said: “Construction for Crossrail is providing rare and exciting opportunities for archaeologists to excavate and study areas of London that would ordinarily be inaccessible, such as under established road-systems. There are up to six metres of archaeology on site, in what is one of the oldest areas of the city, so we stand to learn a great deal.”
Crossrail lead archaeologist Jay Carver said: “The Bedlam burial ground spans a fascinating phase of London’s history, including the transition from the Tudor-period City into cosmopolitan early-modern London. This is probably the first time a sample of this size from this time period has been available for archaeologists to study in London. The Bedlam burial ground was used by a hugely diverse population from right across the social spectrum and from different areas of the City.”