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Radiocarbon dates from Archeox excavations at Bartlemas Chapel, autumn 2011

You will all probably remember that before the Project’s investigations almost nothing was known about the burials at Bartlemas. We know now that dozens of people must be buried around the Chapel, within the old curving enclosure wall.  Some of you will remember recording some of the wall’s massive stones now hidden beneath undergrowth.

The radiocarbon dates (see here for the raw data) have given us a much clearer idea about the various phases of burial: three new dates have just arrived. One of the burials uncovered and recorded during the reburial of the disarticulated human skeletal remains east of the Chapel last year produced a date of 1220-1298 calAD (94.8% probability). This means the burial was made during the period when Bartlemas was still a leper hospital. However this person may not have been a leper.  During the excavations in 2011 the burial of a young man was uncovered, also at the east end of the Chapel: like the later discovery he was tucked against a medieval wall and carried no obvious indications of leprosy. Perhaps these interments were both of officials associated with the Hospital – a Chaplain, Warden or patron – buried against the eastern end of the pre-fourteenth century Chapel.

The recent dates also provided information on the phase of west-east burials found cut from a similar ground surface to the west and south of the Chapel. Dates from the south of the Chapel – 1315-1440 calAD (95.4% probability) and 1283-1399 calAD (95.4% probability) – suggest these were burials from the first one hundred or so years after the site became an  almshouse, in the very  earliest 14th century.

Add to that information provided by the first dates we secured. These told us that there were indeed lepers buried in the chapel yard from the foundation of the leper hospital in the early 12th century And the date from one of the charnel pits, where loose bones disturbed by digging and building work had been reburied, suggested that some of the burials may have been from the mid seventeenth century – perhaps related to the Civil War encampment.

People were buried at Bartlemas from its founding: it seems to have continued until at least the seventeenth century. In the leper hospital period there may have been one form of burial for the lepers and another for Chaplains, Wardens and patrons. Burial during at least the first period of the almshouse was organised in closely packed rows