Archaeologists have started the delicate work of removing 3,000 skeletons, including some plague victims, from the Bedlam burial ground at Liverpool Street in the City of London.
The excavation will allow construction of the eastern entrance of the new Liverpool Street Crossrail station.
A team of 60 archaeologists will work in shifts, six days a week to remove skeletons and record evidence from a burial ground that operated between 1569 and 1738.
This year marks the 350th anniversary of London’s last Great Plague in 1665 and archaeologists hope that tests on excavated plague victims will help understand the evolution of the plague bacteria strain.
Bedlam was London’s first municipal burial ground and was used by people from around London who could not afford a church burial, or who chose to be buried there for religious or political reasons.
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.”
Nick Elsden, project manager from Museum of London Archeology, which is carrying out the dig, said: “Construction for Crossrail is providing rare and exciting opportunities for archaeologists to excavate and study areas of London that would ordinarily be inaccessible. We stand to learn a great deal.
”The research also aims to shed light on migration patterns, diet, lifestyle and demography of those living in London at the time."
Excavated skeletons will be taken to MOLA for testing by osteologists (bone specialists) before being reburied in a consecrated burial ground.
The skeletons will be excavated over the next four weeks, after which archaeologists will dig through medieval marsh deposits and Roman remains.
A Roman road runs under the site, which has already yielded several interesting Roman artefacts such as horseshoes and cremation urns.
Archaeologists are expected to finish onsite in September when Crossrail works will begin.