Researchers Reconstruct the Life of Cambridge Graveyard Man


A team of British archaeologists reconstructed the face of a man who died 700 years ago

A team gathering researchers from Cambridge University and the University of Dundee succeeded in reconstructing the face of a 13th century patient they found buried in a medieval hospital graveyard in Cambridge. This is part of a study meant to reveal how ordinary people lived during the time.

A hospital graveyard hidden beneath

During recent excavations performed beneath St. John’s College, the researchers found around 400 sets of remains. This particular skeleton they chose for reconstruction belongs to a man and is formally known as Context 958. They believe that the man died around 700 years ago and was a patient at St. John’s Hospital, which was present there before the founding of the College.

The researchers unearthed the remnants when they discovered that the Old Divinity School of St. John’s College was hiding one of the largest hospital graveyards beneath. They excavated the site between 2010 and 2012 and started one of the first studies which was meant to discover how people of the time lived.

The site is believed to be hosting former patients of St. John the Evangelist’s hospital, which had been placed opposite from the burial ground until 1511. So far, archaeologists found bodies dating from 13th to 15th century.

Reconstructing a life from scratch

Context 958 was found buried in a slightly irregular way for the traditional medieval customs, namely he was lying face down. The researchers, gathered from Cambridge University’s Division of Archaeology and the University of Dundee’s Center for Anatomy and Human Identification, analyzed the man’s bones and teeth and succeeded in putting up information on his life.

With the help of facial reconstruction tools, the archaeologists revealed how the man looked like when he was alive. He respected the “pattern” of ordinary people at the time, namely poor, ill, and could probably not live alone.

Professor Jon Robb revealed what other discoveries they made regarding Context 958.

“Context 958 was over 40 when he died and had quite a robust skeleton with a lot of wear and tear from a hard-working life. He was a working-class person, perhaps with a specialized trade of some kind. He had fallen on hard times, perhaps through illness, limiting his ability to continue working or through not having a family network to take care of him in his poverty.”

This study is part of the “After the Plague” project, where researchers aim to learn about the life of medieval people, reconstruct their lives, and create a broad picture of how people lived in England during the Middle Ages.
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