1665 Great Plague of London Cause — Skeletons discovered in a mass grave in London helped to highlight the presence of Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that caused the bubonic plague that devastated London in the 17th century as reported by the BBC.
All major cities have history, and their foundations often full of ancient stories. The few 10,000 remains exhumed in the city of London and its surroundings, which cover almost 55 million years of history of the British capital, are the proof. One of the latest discoveries to date, a mass grave full of skeletons carefully aligned next to each other, has enabled scientists to identify the bacteria that caused the Great Plague of London, which led to the death a quarter of the inhabitants of the city between 1665 and 1666.
“Because of the position of the skeletons, they’d obviously been laid in coffins & put in very respectfully, nobody was thrown in anywhere in presumably what must have been quite a traumatic event,” says Alison Telfer from Museum of London Archaeology, quoted by the BBC.
“We’ve been working here for the last five-and-half-years on and off and we’re hoping we’ll be able to get positive identification of the plague on a number of the individuals,” she added.
To implement its new rail network, the company Crossrail have been excavating archaeological sites for more than five years. The discovery of a mass grave in the cemetery of Bedlam greatly surprised archeologists: 3,500 bodies carefully aligned next to each other, suggesting that they had been buried in coffins, which implies a certain respect for the deceased. This is not yet the image conveyed by the stories of the time, which rather speak of great confusion and a trivialization of death. After the discovery, archaeologists have recovered the teeth of several skeletons, which are usually better preserved than the rest of the body. Bubonic plague caused a quick death and indeed leaves no trace on the bones. After being analyzed by the Max Planck Institute in Jena, Germany, five of these samples revealed the presence of the pathogen Yersinia pestis.
The causative agent of the bacterial infection, contrary to what we have long believed, would not have come from black rats but gerbils. It’s the first time that the DNA of the pathogen responsible for the 1665 Great Plague of London has been discovered in the country. Researchers are enthusiastic: through further analysis, they hope to gather information about what people ate back then, where they came from, or even if there were particles in the air. This will, above all, to better understand the evolution of such diseases, and to compare it with the Black Death of 1348. These discoveries are expected to be published in 2017.
As for those who fear the revival of Yersinia pestis, be reassured: the bacteria did not survive its victims; it died nearly 351 years ago.
1665 Great Plague of London Cause