Author Archives: hbonney

About hbonney

I'm the Senior Curator in Charge of the Anthropology & Human Remains collections at the Natural History Museum, London.

Horrors of the Green Ground cemetery | Human anthropology

Crania from the Green Ground on Portugal Street

Crania from the Green Ground on Portugal Street

A team of Natural History Museum anthropologists have been digitising and analysing a collection human remains from London in order to learn more about the lives and deaths of people who lived in the capital.

While studying bones from a post-medieval cemetery known as the ‘Green Ground’ on Portugal Street, we dug deeper into the history of this cemetery.

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Syphilis in post-medieval London | Human Anthropology

Syphilitic lesions on a cranial fragment

Syphilitic lesions on a cranial fragment from London.

In the Natural History Museum’s collections there are a number of human remains from various sites throughout London. Many of these originate from post-medieval burial grounds which were closed in the 1850s. Although many of the bodies were moved to outer-London cemeteries, some were left behind. It is, therefore, not unusual to accidentally uncover post-medieval burials during building works in the capital.

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Filling in the gap: dental disease in past populations | Human Anthropology

Roman adult dental decay

Roman adult, probable female from Cannon Street with heavy dental calculus on right premolars and molars

Today many people, both children and adults, dread going to the dentist. Whether it’s the odd smells, the gritty taste of the polishing paste, or the fear of being told you need a root canal, most people find it to be an unpleasant experience. For me, however, as an Anthropologist who has seen just how bad dental health can be, I look forward to my dentist visits! It only takes looking at the teeth of people from the past to make me brush my teeth and floss everyday.

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Don’t feel old? Your bones might disagree | Human Anthropology

Elderly woman

A team of scientists at the Natural History Museum have been carrying out detailed analysis of human remains recovered throughout London which are cared for in the museum’s collections. They have uncovered fascinating insights into lives and deaths of the people that once lived in the capital.

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Debtors, Dickens and Dorrit at St George the Martyr, Southwark | Human Anthropology


Illustration from Dickens's Little Dorrit

Illustration from Dickens’ Little Dorrit (May 1856) Image scan by Philip V. Allingham.

In the Natural History Museum’s collections are a number of human remains from a disused post-medieval burial ground at the church of St George the Martyr. These were recovered during widening road-works in the early 1900s and were initially curated by the Royal College of Surgeons before later being transferred to the Natural History Museum.

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Written in bones: Deducing age and sex from skeletons | Human anthropology


Drawings of the human skull from Gray’s Anatomy (1858)

Drawings of the human skull from Gray’s Anatomy (1858)

Museum scientists are analysising a collection of human remains from London to learn more about the lives and deaths of  bygone Londoners . A central component of their work is to identify the age and sex of the people they are studying along with any diseases or other pathologies that they had. Here, Rosalind Wallduck explains how anthropologists estimate the age and sex of a deceased individual from their skeleton.

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Dealing with London’s dead: the aftermath of the Burial Acts | Human Anthropology

Necropolis station

London terminal of the London Necropolis Railway.

London, a buzzing metropolis, is renowned worldwide for its cultural sights and attractions, iconic buildings and manicured green spaces, cutting-edge construction and development.  But the capital has a hidden secret. In the not-too-distant-past it was once sprawling with unsanitary, overcrowded and overflowing burial grounds and many of London’s dead still lie beneath our feet.

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