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Jewish Bodies Found in Medieval Well in Norwich, England

Circa 1150 to 1250
<p>The order in which the skeletons were found suggests that children were thrown down the well after the adults. (BBC).</p>

The order in which the skeletons were found suggests that children were thrown down the well after the adults. (BBC).

In 2004 the skeletons of 17 bodies were found at the bottom of a medieval well during the excavation of a site in the center of Norwich, England ahead of the construction of a shopping center. The remains were put into storage and investigated in 2011 by a team led by Scottish forensic anthropologist Sue Black.

Using DNA sequencing, molecular palaeobiologist Ian Barnes determined that the skeletons, which date to the 12th or 13th century, were probably remains of Jews. Eleven of the 17 skeletons were those of children aged between two and 15. The remaining six were adult men and women. It is likely that they were murdered or forced to commit suicide.

"Pictures taken at the time of excavation suggested the bodies were thrown down the well together, head first.

"A close examination of the adult bones showed fractures caused by the impact of hitting the bottom of the well. But the same damage was not seen on the children's bones, suggesting they were thrown in after the adults who cushioned the fall of their bodies.

"The team had earlier considered the possibility of death by disease but the bone examination also showed no evidence of diseases such as leprosy or tuberculosis.

"Giles Emery, the archaeologist who led the original excavation, said at first he thought it might have been a plague burial, but carbon dating had shown that to be impossible as the plague came much later.

"And historians pointed out that even during times of plague when mass graves were used, bodies were buried in an ordered way with respect and religious rites.

"Norwich had been home to a thriving Jewish community since 1135 and many lived near the well site. But there are records of persecution of Jews in medieval England including in Norwich.

"Sophie Cabot, an archaeologist and expert on Norwich's Jewish history, said the Jewish people had been invited to England by the King to lend money because at the time, the Christian interpretation of the bible did not allow Christians to lend money and charge interest. It was regarded as a sin.

"So cash finance for big projects came from the Jewish community and some became very wealthy - which in turn, caused friction" (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13855238, accessed 01-07-2014). This article contains a dramatic image of the way the skeletons were found in the well.

In June and July 2011 the BBC televised a one hour episode of the series History Cold Case, Series 2, entitled The Bodies in the Well. In January 2014 this show was downloadable from iTunes for a fee. 

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