A huge 12-month long archaeological excavation has uncovered the remains of almost 10,000 people. During its peak more than 300 individuals were being found each week as 90 staff got to work to uncover the secrets at the site in Hull.
The site was originally consecrated in July 1785 as a solution to an emergency situation at what was then Holy Trinity Church in Hull’s Old Town where available space in the medieval graveyard was rapidly running out. The new burial ground was used for burials until 1861 and during that time over 43,000 burials were recorded on the parish register, Hull Live reports. Project manager Stephen Rowland said: “Although it is known that some of those people were interred in the original medieval cemetery located immediately around the church, the majority are thought to lie within Trinity Burial Ground on Castle Street.
“At our peak of the excavation work, around 90 staff were working on the project in a variety of roles and the remains of approximately 300 individuals were being excavated each week. “Further analysis of the findings and the remains of around 9,500 people who have been carefully and respectfully excavated will continue before they are reburied. “The reburial is taking place into an excavated trench which lies within part of the burial ground and lies outside the footprint of the road.”
While the physical work of digging deep into the history of the former Trinity burial ground is mainly over, experts from the project team Oxford Archaeology North will soon begin detailed desktop data studies on their finds. Mr Rowland said his team’s work at the site over the last 12 months had already uncovered a wealth of information about Hull’s population as it started to increase rapidly in the later part of the 18th century. “The most orderly burials lay in several rows close to a path emanating from the main entrance in the central-eastern part. “These are thought to be wealthier individuals, some of whom had well-furnished coffins replete with a panoply of decorative fittings and occupied brick-built ᴛᴏᴍʙs of varying designs.
“In several instances, we identified devices, known as mort safes, that had been installed to prevent body snatching, common contemporary practice and attested at Trinity Burial Ground by various historical sources. “Most of these comprise simple iron strapping placed around the wooden coffin but one burial demonstrated the use of more extensive measures. “William Watkinson was buried by his fellow engineers after a boiler he was inspecting fell on his head. “A piece of boilerplate was incorporated into the ɢʀᴀᴠᴇstone, and three iron boilerplates were placed in the ɢʀᴀᴠᴇ, above the coffin, which was wrapped in an iron cage.
“Although such structures have been found elsewhere in the country, these have rarely been found archaeologically in the north of England.” Mr Rowland said numerous artefacts had also been recovered, many featuring a direct connection with burials. “Most common were simple copper-alloy pins used to secure shrouds, coffin linings, clothing and hair to ensure that the corpse was presentable during viewings. “There were numerous dress fittings and items of personal ornamentation, including buttons of many designs and various materials, hair combs, pieces of jewellery and Dutch coins. “There was also a plethora of more unusual items. We were rather surprised to find a conch shell – maybe it was a souvenir from travels overseas?
“An unassuming blue glass bead was also identified as a trade bead. These are frequently found in European colonies and Africa, where they were part of a suite of goods traded for slaves. “These are not often recognised in UK contexts and some may have been confused with earlier beads of the Saxon and Roman periods when found as isolated objects. “Several plate burials were also found, which is exactly how it sounds – the individual was buried with a ceramic plate.
“It is possible that these plates once held salt, believed to have protective properties and be a symbol of eternal life and several examples of these have been found in post-medieval burial grounds in London and Birmingham.” Mr Rowland said laboratory work at the site was now finished with an analysis of the osteological data about to start. “This will investigate themes such as mortality patterns across the population, and patterns of health and disease,” he explained. Almost 90 staff took part in the work.
“However, preliminary observations made during recording do suggest a high prevalence of deficiency diseases, such as rickets and scurvy, a high incidence of nasal fractures in adults, poor dental health, and presence of diseases such as tuberculosis and syphilis.” Some of the sᴋᴇʟᴇᴛᴏɴs also displayed examples of some of the surgery used during the period. Mr Rowland said: “Healed amputations and a rare example of a healed hole which had been drilled into a skull provided evidence of surgical procedures.
“There was also evidence of autopsy, chiefly in the form of craniotomies, where the skull was cut open post-mortem to observe the brain. “One coffin contained the remains of three anatomised individuals where extensive post-mortem cuts to the bones indicated these were probably cadavers used for teaching.”