Mass Medieval Cemetery Sheds Light on Berlin’s Brutal Birth

In Berlin, a historic medieval cemetery has been excavated which reveals that medieval people’s lives were blighted by hunger, disease, and extreme violence. Many of the human remains show signs of violent deaths and may indicate that Berlin in the Middle Ages was plagued by conflicts.

The cemetery was found in 2008 in Petriplatz, during the development of a car park near the former St Peter’s Church. This area is in the town of Colln that merged with Berlin in the fifteenth century. Almost 4000 skeletons were found that date from approximately 1040 to 1700. According to The Daily Mail , “almost half date to between 1047 and 1299, in the period when the German capital was established.”

The remains studied by the archaeologists demonstrated that many people led harsh existences. There was evidence of conditions such as scurvy and rickets, that were most likely the result of poor diets. Some skeletons may also indicate that people suffered from leprosy and reveal that tuberculosis was common. This may reflect that Berlin and Colln was built on an unhealthy “splodge of swampland around the River Spree’” according to The Times . An analysis of the remains found in the medieval cemetery showed that many of those who died were from the Rhineland or Bohemia, which is now in Czechia and were probably migrants.

One grave contained a child dubbed “The Swimmer” by the researchers, according to The Daily Mail .  The skeleton indicates that the child was laid in the grave with its back arched and arms crossed. Natasha Powers from Allen Archaeology told The Daily Mail that this “can be explained by that when the child was buried, they were in cadaveric rigor, or extreme spasm, with the muscles of the back, arms and legs all contracted.” The posture would strongly suggest that that this was a result of tetanus, which is a condition that is now extremely rare because of modern medicine.

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