The bones of old Londoners can tell a lot about how they lived - and died - in the city as Wellcome's latest exhibition, opening today, proves.
Old burial sites are found from time to time around the city during construction works, for example the remodeling of Spitalfields Market and the Jubilee line expansion. Twenty six skeletons, recovered from 10 different locations across the city and analysed by the Museum of London are on display.
You'll meet William Wood, a well-fed butcher buried in Chelsea, who lived up to his eighties, lost all teeth, but was probably quite fat. In contrast the young woman just a few skeletons away, was buried in Crossbones Graveyard, in Southwark, a cemetery for "single women" (“prostitutes” in plain English) and other outcasts. She died of syphilis on her late twenties, after suffering from rickets and chronic tooth decay during her life.
There's also a woman who was buried beneath the old Mint House whose neck and skull are tinted green due to the copper in the soil; the remains of a pregnant woman and her 22 week unborn baby; and an eleven-year-old with congenital syphilis and impressively deformed bones. A more fortunate individual was Nicholas Adams, who died at 78 and managed to keep his head of respectable white hair well conserved to this day, probably thanks to the lead coffin he was buried in.
Whilst the skeletons are the stars of this show, this is not just bones to gawp at but human stories excavated from beneath the city streets.
By Barbara Axt