28 May 2009

UK: 13th century Jewish cemetery

Over in the UK, the city of Northampton has begun to excavate on the site of a possible 13th-century Jewish cemetery some 17 years after skeletal remains were found nearby.
Experts believe the cemetery, which is one of only 10 such sites in England, was situated in what is now Lawrence Court, in the town centre, between 1259 and 1290.

Their research seemed to be confirmed when bones discovered by workmen in a collapsed culvert in neighbouring Temple Bar back in 1992 were dated to the same period.

Now a team of forensic archaeologists from Birmingham University has begun a survey of the area, hoping to discover evidence of the cemetery's enclosure walls, grave cuts and associated buildings.

Anglo-Jewish historian and Northampton resident Marcus Roberts is leading the project and said: "This is potentially the last unexcavated known Jewish cemetery in the country and perhaps the only one accessible for study, so it is a site of huge national importance.
The project plans to use non-intrusive methods, and not to start digging things up, as it is a sacred burial site.
"If we do find evidence of the cemetery from this survey we may consider taking a look at the buildings or boundary walls but we would not want to dig up the graves."
The team recently marked a grid to begin the survey.

A Birmingham University archaeology student was quoted as saying passing electrical current through the ground could determine if there had been graves in the past.
"If you dig a grave you aerate the soil and a lot of moisture gets caught up in the soil. So when we look for grave cuts we look for an area of very low resistance, possibly with a mass within it causing high resistance, if there is all or part of a skeleton buried there."
Read the complete story here in the Northampton Chronicle & Echo.

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