A matter of life and death: large medieval cemetery in Cambridge.

A report published yesterday has revealed a large cemetery in Cambridge which has been dated to the medieval period. The site was excavated by the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU) between 2010-2012, but the report has only just been published. It tells the story of a cemetery used over several generations, not only of people but of the cemetery itself. Each cemetery has a life-span and a generation is quite simply the amount of time before the site is full, and another round of burials commences.

The team found over 400 complete medieval burials along with “disarticulated” or fragmentary remains of as many as 1,000 more individuals. This was far more than the team had expected, and they shed significant new light on life and death in medieval Cambridge. The bodies, which mostly date from a period spanning the 13th to 15th centuries, are burials from the medieval Hospital of St John the Evangelist. The hospital was established around 1195 by the townspeople of Cambridge to care for the poor and sick in the community. Originally merely a small building on a patch of waste ground, the Hospital grew with Church support to be a noted place of hospitality and care for both University scholars and local people.

Most of the bodies seem to have been buried in neatly laid-out rows, or deposited in a charnel house on the site.  One really interesting thing found during the project was that the cemetery was found to have had gravel paths and a water well, along with seeds from various flowering plants, suggesting that much like today’s cemeteries, it was a place for people to come and visit their deceased loved ones.

The full report has been published in the latest issue of the Archaeological Journal, number 172.

Visit the University of Cambridge website for the full story: http://tinyurl.com/ndq74dx

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