Medieval sites collection (410-1550)

Medieval crania from London

Medieval crania from London

The cranial remains of eight individuals, probably dating to the medieval period, were recovered from various locations in London. These originate from burial grounds and crypts. 

Origins of the collection

These medieval remains were predominantly discovered in the latter half of the nineteenth century. As a result, varying degrees of detail are known about their context and the circumstances surrounding their discovery.

The remains were previously from private collections and were subsequently either donated directly to the Natural History Museum or transferred from the Royal College of Surgeons. 

Bermondsey Abbey

PA SK 710

A cranium was disinterred from Bermondsey Abbey, assumed by the finder to be that of a monk. Bermondsey Abbey was founded in 1082 and closed in 1538.

  • MNI: 1, adult male.
  • Pathology present: dental wear is extensive and there is heavy dental calculus. There is no evidence of pathological changes.
  • Donated by: presented by W H Mills to the Natural History Museum in 1916.
Basal view of cranium found at Bermondsey Abbey showing extensive tooth wear

Basal view of cranium found at Bermondsey Abbey showing extensive tooth wear

Cloth Fair

PA SK 1552 and 1553

The cranial remains of two individuals were found in 1843 in Cloth Fair, eastern central London.

  • MNI: 2. The first cranium (PA SK 1552) is from an adult male, possibly of old age. The second (PA SK 1553) is from an adult of indeterminate (ambiguous) sex.
  • Pathology present: PA SK 1552 exhibits mild pathological changes on the temporomandibular joint from arthritis and up to four teeth lost ante-mortem causing partial alveolar bone resorption. PA SK 1553 exhibits pathological changes from metabolic disease or non-localised infection, in the form of increased vascularity in both orbits and porosity across much of the vault surface.
  • Donated by: formerly in the collection of Mr E B Price, FSA and the Barnard Davis Collection (numbers 70 and 71, p. 38 of Barnard Davis Catalogue). Donated to the Museum in 1948 by the Royal College of Surgeons.
Cranium from Cloth Fair, London

Cranium from Cloth Fair, London

Lady Chapel, Southwark

PA SK 711

A cranium was recovered from a tomb in Lady Chapel, Southwark, probably dating to the fifteenth or sixteenth century. The building was erected in the reign of Richard II (1377-1399) and Henry IV (1399-1413), after the previous building burnt down. Originally the Priory of St Mary Overie in Southwark, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries it became the Priory Church of St Savior, Southwark. It is today Southwark Cathedral.

  • MNI: 1. Adult, ambiguous sex.
  • Pathology present: osteoma (benign bony growth) on the left parietal and possible cranial thickening. There are no teeth present, with many lost ante-mortem due to poor dental health and dental disease, as evident from multiple abscesses and loss of alveolar bone.
  • Donated by: part of the collection of James De Ville, phrenologist, and then the Barnard Davis Collection (number 993, p. 47 of Barnard Davis Catalogue). Donated to the Museum in 1948 by the Royal College of Surgeons.
Cranium from Lady Chapel, Southwark.

Cranium from Lady Chapel, Southwark. An osteoma can be seen on the parietal bone.

Newcastle Street

PA SK 708 and 709

Two crania were found in 1844 at the west end of Newcastle Street, Farringdon Street, eastern central London. These two crania formed part of a large number of human remains found at a depth of about 1.5 metres during excavations for sewerage.

Also found were several abbey counters, pointing to the existence of a medieval cemetery. An ancient wall was also uncovered, although it was unclear whether this was a monastic edifice or Inn of Chancery. 

Other human remains had previously been found about two metres down, at a distance of 6-9 metres farther east.

  • MNI: 2. The first cranium (PA SK 708) is of an adult male. The second cranium (PA SK 709) is from an ambiguous adult individual.
  • Pathology present: PA SK 709: maxilla has raised tori along the anterior and posterior medial palatine sutures and across the transverse palatine sutures. There is evidence of non-localised infection or metabolic disease in the form of porosity on the posterior aspect of both parietal bones and the superior surface of the occipital bone. This individual suffered from poor dental health. Two teeth were lost ante-mortem and there are at least three abscesses.
  • Donated by: first preserved in the collection of Mr E B Price, FSA, and then the Barnard Davis Collection (number 65, p. 37 of Barnard Davis Catalogue). They were donated to the Museum in 1948 by the Royal College of Surgeons.
Cranium of adult individual found under Newcastle Street

Cranium of adult individual found under Newcastle Street

St Bartholomew-the-Great

PA SK 1565

 Cranial remains (cranium and mandible) were found under the church of St Bartholomew-the-Great, London. The church was founded in 1123, then dissolved in 1539 and again in 1559. Other than the pre-dissolution burials, however, there have been several interments within the church and a large number in the churchyard that was established on the site of the nave. The remains are probably medieval in date, but cannot be dated more exactly than somewhere between 1123 and around 1800.

  • MNI: 1, adult female.
  • Pathology present: This individual had poor dental hygiene as evident from the presence of dental calculus on the lingual surface of the teeth. During childhood they also suffered from episodes of poor health, resulting in linear enamel hypoplasias on the canines and incisors.
  • Donated by: originally part of the Barnard Davis Collection (number 966, p. 44 of Bernard Davis Catalogue). Donated to the Museum in 1955 by the Royal College of Surgeons.
Calvarium of adult female from St Bartholomew the Great

Calvarium of adult female from St Bartholomew the Great

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