– Wat – Maria : “Archaeologists Reconstruct Medieval Lives of Cambridge Residents Through Skeleton Analysis”

Death – Obituary – Accident and Crime News : Archaeologists at Cambridge University have recently completed a groundbreaking study that sheds light on the lives of ordinary residents in medieval Cambridge. Through a meticulous analysis of skeletal remains, the researchers have managed to reconstruct the “biographies” of hundreds of individuals who were buried in the grounds of a medieval hospital between AD1200 and 1500.

The study provides a detailed glimpse into the lives, health, and even appearance of these forgotten individuals. It also offers valuable insights into how the hospital operated its medieval “benefits system” and determined who was worthy of charitable assistance.

The skeletons examined in this study represent a diverse range of social classes, including orphan children, university scholars, and a group referred to as the “shame-faced poor.” The latter category comprises individuals who had previously experienced relative prosperity but had fallen on hard times, making them particularly deserving of charity.

Excavated in 2010, the site of the hospital of St John the Evangelist yielded numerous unidentified graves. To unravel the mysteries surrounding these remains, the research team employed various scientific techniques such as DNA and isotope analysis, human skeletal variation, and other disciplines. This comprehensive approach allowed them to gather an extensive dataset, which is believed to be one of the most comprehensive compilations for medieval England.

As a companion to the research paper published in Antiquity, a new website has been launched to share some of the stories discovered during the study. Among the notable individuals is “Wat,” a stocky, dark-haired man who survived multiple waves of the Black Death but ultimately succumbed to cancer. Another individual, “Maria,” experienced a challenging childhood that stunted her growth. She performed arduous manual labor and eventually contracted tuberculosis, leading to her premature death in her early 20s.

Interestingly, the researchers also identified approximately 10 male skeletons as probable university scholars based on the symmetry of their arm bones, suggesting that they were not engaged in heavy manual labor like most of the young male skeletons.

According to Professor John Robb, the lead researcher of the study, the findings challenge the notion that the hospital solely catered to the underprivileged. Instead, it appears that the institution cared for individuals from various walks of life, potentially appealing to a wide range of donors and ensuring its survival for over three centuries.

This groundbreaking study not only provides an invaluable glimpse into the lives of medieval Cambridge residents but also highlights the complex dynamics of charitable institutions during that period. By uncovering these forgotten stories, the researchers have brought new depth and understanding to the rich history of Cambridge.

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