A medieval mass grave has been found near the Durham Cathedral in the UK.

Skeletal remains found during excavation at Durham University.  Image Credit: Durham University Department of Archaeology.

Skeletal remains found during excavation at Durham University. Image Credit: Durham University Department of Archaeology.

Durham university archaeologists are in the process of excavating the bodies from a centuries old mass grave at the city’s World Heritage Site.   In November, during renovation work at the University’s Palace Green Library, workers initially found the remains of four individuals, but that number has since climbed to 18, which include 17 adults and one juvenile.

Archaeologists excavating the site originally thought they unearthed the remains of a medieval cemetery that lies in front of the Durham Cathedral, but one of the densest excavation areas is further north than the “edge of the presumed graveyard.”

Site archaeologists believe this is a mass grave because of the lack of ceremony with which the bodies were buried and the unorthodox grave alignment.  There are multiple bodies buried in one or two graves, and the human remains seemed to have been hastily buried and are comingled (mixed).  Also some graves have a north/south alignment, not the traditional east/west alignment that archaeologists expect of a gravesite from the medieval period.

Richard Annis, senior archaeologist with Archaeological Services Durham University, told the MailOnline, “I’m fairly sure that there will be more [bodies] to come because they are piled one on top of another.”

Annis went on to say, “The process of post-excavation processing, examination and analysis is essential to allow us to draw proper conclusions about this group of human remains.  It is too early to say what they may be.”

The UK’s Ministry of Justice has granted permission to Durham University archaeologists to complete the current excavation and removal of the bones for further examination.  The remains must eventually be reinterred in an approved burial ground by law.

The Durham World Heritage Site was recorded on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1986.  There are many buildings on this site, including The Durham Cathedral and the Palace Green Library.  The current cathedral, founded in AD 1093, is considered one of the finest examples of Norman architecture, and was built to house the relics of St. Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede.  Both the Palace Green Library and the Durham Cathedral are undergoing renovations to create world-class exhibition and visitor facilities.

The MailOnline also has more photos of the excavation and an interview with Richard Annis.

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