More than 400 complete skeletons have been found beneath St John’s College, Cambridge.
The remains were found following renovations to the Old Divinity School, which required digging up the foundations of the old site leading head archaeologist, Dr Craig Cressford, to discover the beginnings of what they later discovered to be a medieval graveyard.
Given the location and display of the bodies, Archaeologists believe that the remains are from the Hospital of St John the Evangelist, dating from between 1200 and 1500 AD, for which St John’s College, Cambridge is named. The majority of the bodies were buried without coffins or burial goods, suggesting the cemetery was primarily used to inter the poor.
The bodies were largely of men, with very few women and children, demonstrating the graveyard’s main purpose of catering to poor scholars and ‘other wretched persons’. The graveyard also did not contain the bodies of clerics, suggesting that the graveyard had the specific purpose of housing laymen. HSPS applicants should consider the hospital’s policy of not caring for pregnant women, and what contemporary examples also show gender imbalance in healthcare.
Archaeologists also made the chilling discovery that many bodies did not fit into their graves, with the implication being that many graves were dug before they were required with the expectation of dead bodies to fill them. Human Sciences and History applicants should therefore explore how the burial of bodies can be useful when investigating people’s livelihood.
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