500-year-old skeletons found in the Tower of London

It’s not only illustrious or infamous guests who stayed at the Tower of London.

October 24, 2019, 10:51 AM

Not only is it the final resting place to many traitors to the crown, the infamous Tower of London has also been home to many ordinary people since it was built in 1066.

But the recent discovery of the remains of a woman and a girl have managed to shed even more light on what life was like in the fortress during the late Medieval and early Tudor period.

The Tower of London is a famous landmark located in the center of London and is most renowned for housing the U.K. crown jewels as well as being the final resting place of three executed English queens, including two of King Henry VIII’s six wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. It’s the burial site for many of the people condemned as ‘traitors’ to the crown and beheaded on nearby Tower Hill.

PHOTO: The Tower of London is seen here in an undated stock photo.
The Tower of London is seen here in an undated stock photo.
STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

For centuries the Tower was the most important military fortress in the United Kingdom, but over its almost 1000-year history, plenty of ordinary people lived there too.

“During the late medieval and early Tudor period the Tower would have been a thriving mini village,” said the Historic Royal Palaces, the independent charity that look after a number of royal landmarks around London, in a press statement. “It would have served as not only a royal residence, but it operated daily functions as the Office of Ordnance and Royal Mint with its own chapels and pubs, with hundreds of people working and living amongst its walls.”

Historians aren’t certain how many people lived there at its height, but press spokesperson Catherin Steventon told ABC News that about 140 people live at the Tower now. “We can imagine more people probably lived here, we minted all of the coins of the realm in the tower so we had mint workers here, more buildings, and temporary buildings, we had more pubs. It shows the Chapel would have been used."

This new find, however, is the first discovery of a complete human skeleton since the 1970s, and the very first time that modern scientific analysis has been carried out on any skeleton uncovered at Tower.

Steventon told ABC News that they are used to finding things animal bones, oyster shells and old masonry in the course of building or repairing structures, but that it’s rare for them to carry out digs of this kind since they do not want to overly disturb the ancient grounds.

This particular discovery came as a result of plans to install a disabled access point into the Chapel of Saint Peter ad Vincula, which was completed in 1520. As part of the planning process, they conducted two “trial digs in order to gather information on the chapel’s boundaries and that of associated burials within its grounds.”

“Think Indiana Jones with all the excitement, just none of the action, hot weather or whips,” wrote Historic Buildings Curator Alfred Hawkins in a blog post about the find.

In a matter of days, the archaeologists uncovered the remains of two people cut into the medieval floor of what appears to be an earlier chapel located at the site.

PHOTO: Historic Royal Palaces curator Alfred Hawkins inspects late medieval remains uncovered at Tower of London.
Historic Royal Palaces curator Alfred Hawkins inspects late medieval remains uncovered at Tower of London.
Historic Royal Palaces

The two people were buried in a way that the Historic Royal Palaces said is “typical of later medieval and early Tudor burials and due to further materials and artifacts uncovered it seems likely that these remains were laid to rest between 1450 and 1550.”

The find helps shed light on the history of the Chapel and what life was like for those who lived at the Tower 500 years ago.

“By looking for marks related to growth, damage, wear and disease we can create an image of how these individuals lived and died,” wrote Hawkins. “The female was considered to be between the ages of 35-45 while the child is thought to have been 7.”

“Both skeletons show signs of illness and the adult shows signs of chronic back pain. Their growth shows not a comfortable life, but one which is typical of the period in which they lived.”

“Furthermore,” Hawkins wrote, “there were no signs of a violent death concerning either individual. This is due to the use of the Chapel as a burial ground for those individuals who lived and worked within the Tower of London – not just as a depository for the traitorous!”

The remains were reburied in the Chapel at a special ceremony conducted by The Reverend Canon Roger Hall MBE on 10 September 2019. The plans for the construction of a disabled entrance to the Chapel continue.