London skeletons reveal secrets of Black Death

Scientists took one tooth from each of 12 skeletons, then extracted DNA from the teeth. They announced that the bodies had been exposed to and likely died from the Black Death

Molars taken from skeletons unearthed by work on a new London railway line are revealing secrets of the medieval Black Death – and of its victims.

Last week, Don Walker, an osteologist with the Museum of London, outlined the biography of one man whose ancient bones were found by construction workers under London’s Charterhouse Square: He was breast-fed as a baby, moved to London from another part of England, had bad tooth decay in childhood, grew up to work as a laborer, and died in early adulthood from the bubonic plague that ravaged Europe in the 14th century.

The poor man’s life was nasty, brutish and short, but his afterlife is long and illuminating. “It’s fantastic we can look in such detail at an individual who died 600 years ago,” Walker said. “It’s incredible, really.”

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