Detection and characterisation of Black Death burials by multi-proxy geophysical methods

Henry C. Dick, Jamie K. Pringle*, Barney Sloane, Jay Carver, Kristopher D. Wisniewski, Austin Haffenden, Stephen Porter, Daniel Roberts, Nigel Cassidy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


The construction of the new Crossrail railway discovered 25 well preserved skeletons shallowly buried in Central London in 2013. Subsequent carbon dating and aDNA analysis confirmed the archaeological age and presence of the Yersinia pestis "Black Death" plague epidemic strain. Here we present the non-invasive multi-proxy geophysical survey of the adjacent Charterhouse Square, rapidly undertaken to detect any further burials and characterise the site. Historical records suggested the area was a burial ground for Black Death plague victims, before subsequent cemetery and urban land use. Following initial trial surveys, surveys imaged ~200 isolated and similar-sized burials in the south-west of the site. There were also two contrasting burial orientations present at various depths which suggested a series of controlled phased burials. A well-defined eastern burial boundary, taking the form of a ditch and bank, was also discovered. Geophysical surveys also identified a subsequent complex site history with multiple-aged features. This study revises knowledge of Black Death aged-burials and provides important implications for successful geophysical burial detection with significant time- and space-limited site constraints.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)132-141
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Early online date4 May 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2015


  • Black Death
  • Burials
  • Geophysics
  • London
  • Plague

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Archaeology


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