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The Bedlam Mass Pit


The plague is a contagious infectious disease that had its maximum expansion in Europe during the fourteenth centuries and later, more precisely during the years 1346 and 1361, where at least a third of the European population died. This was called the Black Death. There were varicose veins important outbreaks of the epidemic apart from the one known as the Black Death, however, with lower mortality numbers, such as the Italian Plague, the Great Viennese Plague, the Epidemic of 1649 and the one that I will focus more on in this work. What is the Great Plague of London?

In order to explain the impact of this disease, I will later focus on a site recently found, in 2015 in the city of London, where the epidemic took place. This site, excavated by MOLA, the London Archeology Museum, corresponds to a mass grave, called Bedlam, in which it is confirmed that the large number of victims correspond to the Great Plague of London.



In order to explain the Bedlam moat, it is first necessary to know what the plague is and what it caused in ancient times. As the Institut d'Estudis Catalans (IEC) says: “Epidemic disease of bacterial origin that is transmitted directly from person to person or through certain animals, such as rats, fleas and bedbugs. bubonic plague.” This disease is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis and causes bubonic plague, pneumonic plague and septicemic plague. This battery is responsible for all the most numerous plague outbreaks in terms of affected people and victims that have happened throughout history. This was learned thanks to scientific research that was carried out in various mass graves across Europe, where scientists searched through the teeth of almost 200 deaths. In about thirty cases they found traces of the bacterium Yersinia pestis, and in three they discovered the complete genome of the bacterium.


Technically, bubonic plague is transmitted through rodents to humans, more specifically through the bite of infected rodent fleas. However, it is necessary to make a point that, in recent studies carried out by the University of Oslo and Ferrara, they conclude that the Black Death did not come from rats, as had always been blamed, but from human beings themselves, through the fleas and lice that resided in the human body at that time, possibly caused by poor hygiene and poor living conditions that most of the population had, which was not bourgeois. These fleas or lice, from Central Asia (which has been verified by bacterial DNA recovered from several affected) and spread throughout Europe through trade routes. To consolidate this study and this theory that plague is not transmitted by rodents, I would like to quote a few words that Professor Barbara Bramanti said in an article in the newspaper La Vanguardia in reference to bubonic and septicemic plague; “The Black Death was not transmitted by rats... but by humans: For the other two forms, animal fleas were always thought to be carriers.


Following the third plague pandemic, which originated in China in 1855, high rat mortality was discovered before the epidemic. So it was thought that rat fleas, searching for new hosts, had jumped onto people, infecting them. But there is a problem: there is no mention of rat deaths anywhere in reports from medieval times." After the Black Death, the disease did not disappear, but stayed in Europe. This was the cause of the following plague epidemics, such as the Great Plague of London of 1665-1666, which I will talk about later. Other important epidemics consequent to the one in London were the Great Plague of Vienna in 1649, which affected Spain, more precisely in Seville, and the Plague of Marseilles in 1720.


Historic context

The so-called Great Plague of London, was concentrated during the years 1665 and 1666. This new outbreak of bubonic plague was one of the last most significant outbreaks and with the highest mortality in Europe. It is estimated that some 100,000 people died. This epidemic, although it was focused on London, also spread to other places in England, but not to such an extent. In London a fifth of the population died. The hypothesis that the plague came from Holland through trading ships is maintained, since apart from that, Holland had gone through a plague epidemic not long ago, yes, with a much smaller number.

The first cases occurred in poor people, since they occurred in more abandoned areas of the city, such as the port and its surroundings, as well as the areas located in the south of the city, that is why many deaths were not documented at beginning and it was not until some time later, when the plague began to affect more people and especially people of higher class that it was finally reported that there was an outbreak of plague in London. As in all plague outbreaks, the poorest people caught him where their hygienic and living conditions in general were poor. It should be noted that in those years, living conditions in London were quite poor and, therefore, there was a large number of the population that was poor, which is why the number of people affected was so large. Besides, that at the beginning, being winter and having a cold climate, the disease did not spread so much, but it stabilized, instead, when spring arrived, the rise in temperature and the warm weather also arrived, which caused the plague spread much faster.

When it was finally announced that the disease was once again present in society, the people with more resources, the bourgeoisie, left the city to go to the countryside, as isolated as possible from the great mass of city people to avoid contact and infections. People with fewer resources stayed in the city, to which they all fell. It is estimated that each week around 2,000 died first and as the weeks went by, the number of deaths increased fiercely to climb to 7,000 people. Staying in the city was certain death.


At that time, England was ruled by Charles II, who was the first Catholic to rule England. He, learning of the epidemic, left where he lived with his family, the Palace of Whitehall, his main residence from 1530 to 1698. One of the most magnificent palaces in Europe, which had 1,500 rooms, this one was larger than Versailles and than the Vatican. This one was isolated in Oxford, where it would be kept until the plague was extinguished. The members of the court followed in his footsteps. According to witnesses of the time where they were asked what the situation was like then, writings that are collected in the newspaper library, said verbatim "this afternoon I have seen two or three houses marked with a red cross and with the words that God is "have mercy on us". at their gates.” Others commented on the constant ringing of church bells as a message that the plague was increasing.


To put an end to the so-called Great Plague, referring to what had previously been the worst epidemic in history, the Black Death, many false myths and remedies were proposed and said, which obviously did not prevent the disease. It was not until two events occurred in the city of London that the disease diminished, to the point of extinction: the first was the organization of burials, which consisted of mass graves and the second, the Great Fire of London in 1666 , although it is known that the fire occurred after the decrease in the disease and above all, in the center, where the disease did not predominate. The fire did not touch the areas most affected by the disease, such as those in the south of the city. Therefore, if the plague subsided to extinction, it is believed that it was due to the lack of existing population. The less population, the less cases of plague.


When the illness abated and the situation seemed more stable, at the end of February 1666, Charles II returned to London with his family and members of the court. We must make a point in the work written by Daniel Defoe, in 1722, called Diary of the year of the plague, where Defoe writes in the first person events and situations experienced during 16665 and 1666, in the middle of the Great Plague in London, although he does not would have lived This work is written in chronological order and it is believed that Defoe is based on the diary of his uncle, Henry Defoe, who did experience this historical event.Defoe cites in his work the effects caused by the plague: "some are immediately overwhelmed with violent fevers, vomiting, excruciating headaches and backaches as well as delirium." He also adds, "Others suffer strong inflammations and tumors in the neck, groin or armpits until they can rupture, putting them in excruciating and tormenting agony."


Bedlam moat

In the face of a great epidemic such as the plague, the pits are a typical measure and constantly used to avoid spreading the disease from the deceased bodies, which is why they were all buried together. In March 2015, an archaeological site corresponding to a mass grave was found at Liverpool Street station in London, while they were building a high-speed train line of the project called Crossrail, which would link the western part of the city with the eastern part. . Realizing the importance of the discovery, a group of 60 archaeologists was organized to work on the site, from MOLA, the London Museum of Archaeology. Archaeologist and head of Crossrail Jay Carver said "This common foundry, so unlike other individual burials also discovered in Bedlam Cemetery, is most likely the result of a reaction to a catastrophic event."


Following Carver's statement, the Crossrail company made a statement saying that "A nearby headstone was marked as the year 1665, and in fact the individuals appear to have all been buried on the same day, implying that they were victims of the Great Plague." . The thin wooden coffins that covered them crumbled and decomposed, now looking like an ordinary foundry that had collapsed, distorted. The skeletons will now be analyzed by osteologists at MOLA (Museum of London Archeology), and scientific tests may reveal whether the bubonic plague or some other type of epidemic was the cause of the deaths.”


Around 3,000 skeletons were found, dating between 1569 and 1738. This dating, together with the way they were placed and the state of the bones, led to the conclusion that they belonged to bodies affected by the Great Plague of London, the which took place in 1665 and 1666, dates that agree within the dates deduced. Apart from these remains, remains of other bodies were also found, which could be separated from those of the 17th century, thanks to their conditions and, above all, to the way they were buried. The bodies of the seventeenth century were all together, en masse, while the rest of the bones were separated respectively. This is because it had previously been a graveyard for Bedlam Hospital.


This cemetery had been discovered two years ago, but it was not until 2015, when 3,000 skeletons from the 17th century were discovered. Despite concluding that these skeletons could be from the Great Plague, it was not known until a year later, in 2016, that they were indeed officially a consequence of this disease that struck London in 1665. This has been known thanks to DNA tests which have been carried out on 20 skeletons from Bedlam, exactly his teeth, which were brought to Germany for testing, at the Max Plunck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena. The teeth are the parts where the facts are most retained, events that happen to the human body, that is why it is a definitively reliable source. DNA has shown that they tested positive for the predominant plague bacterium, yersina pestis, which had been removed from other pits that were consistent with the Black Death.



Much had been speculated about the reason, the main cause of the great mortality coming from the years 1665-1666 in England, especially in London. There had been talk of an outbreak of plague, which many people supported, but it had also been said that it could have been some hemorrhagic virus.
Definitely, thanks to this new discovery of a site in the middle of the city of London, a large part of its history can be confirmed, that the great decrease in population during 1665 had been due to one of the last critical outbreaks of the plague.


With this conclusion, it also makes us think that the plague never completely died out after the Black Death, it continued to haunt for about 400 years, until it became somewhat isolated. The reason why the plague disappeared in 1666 is still not fully known, after the great impact it left in London and definitively ruling out the Great Fire of 1666. What we are sure of is that after all the analyzes in the remains of skeletons and bones that were in contact with the plague bacteria, we can affirm that the disease that still lasts today is the same plague of that time.

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Escribo en CASTELLANO (spanish) y en inglés (ENGLISH is my third language). Cada día soy otra versión de mi mismo, intento superarme. Entré en el mundo de las criptomonedas y los NFTs el 2021. ¡Soy Mask69... También en Youtube!

Archeology and Anthropology
Archeology and Anthropology

In this blog I am going to reupload publications related to everything that I have been learning throughout the Archeology degree at the University of Barcelona, at the Faculty of Geography and History. Trasnlated from spanish to english. I hope you learn a lot!

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