University of Leicester archaeologists are beginning work on examining the largest discovery of medieval skeletons -- numbering 1,300 -- to be found outside London. The burials are from the graveyard of the lost church of St Peter’s, demolished in 1573 and recently rediscovered.
The skeletons were discovered by a team from University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) working at the site of a former swimming pool- St Margaret’s Baths- which is being redeveloped as part of a £350m Shires shopping centre expansion.
Richard Buckley, Director of ULAS, said the discovery had surpassed his expectations and would provide new insights into medieval life in Leicester.
“Until now we have relied on evidence from medieval rubbish - including food remains, pottery and other finds - to build up a picture of medieval life in the city. This group of burials represents the first opportunity to examine the medieval population itself, in terms of life expectancy, stature and health.
“Evidence of some communal burials and high infant mortality also indicate evidence of infection and disease.
“The skeletons are very well preserved – some were in coffins and others weren’t and were placed in shrouds. We were expecting there to be some 300 skeletons- but the scale of this discovery is stunning.”
The site dates from between the 12th century and the mid 1500s and is part of the medieval church of St Peter’s – one of two parish churches in the city which disappeared in the late medieval period.
Archaeologists also discovered the remains of the church together with evidence of a bell casting pit within the tower after digging some two and a half metres at the city centre location which will eventually be occupied by a John Lewis store.