A Black Death mass grave at Thornton Abbey: the discovery and examination of a fourteenth-century rural catastrophe

Hugh Willmott (Lead / Corresponding author), Peter Townend, Diana Mahoney Swales, Hendrik Poinar, Katherine Eaton, Jennifer Klunk

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Abstract

The discovery of mass burial sites is rare in Europe, particularly in rural areas. Recent excavations at Thornton Abbey in Lincolnshire have revealed a previously unknown catastrophic mass grave containing the remains of at least 48 men, women and children, with radiocarbon dating placing the event in the fourteenth century AD. The positive identification of Yersinia pestis in sampled skeletal remains suggests that the burial population died from the Black Death. This site represents the first Black Death mass grave found in Britain in a non-urban context, and provides unique evidence for the devastating impact of this epidemic on a small rural community.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-196
Number of pages18
JournalAntiquity
Volume94
Issue number373
Early online date18 Feb 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020

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Keywords

  • Black Death
  • Britain
  • mass grave
  • Thornton Abbey
  • Yersinia pestis

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