14th-century plague skeletons unearthed at London station


If you find yourself walking in central London, think about this: not far beneath your feet there may well be human remains. On the edge of Charterhouse Square in the district of Farringdon, engineers were digging an access tunnel for the new Crossrail underground railway when they uncovered 12 skeletons.

“We suspected there might be bodies there,” says Crossrail’s chief archaeologist, Jay Carver. “When the excavation machine uncovered the first bones, we went in and excavated by hand.”

Historical documents suggest the then-lord mayor of London ordered an emergency burial ground to be prepared in Farringdon, in response to the Black Death sweeping Europe in the 14th century.

Relatively few people died in the early stages of the plague and so they were buried in an orderly, east-west orientation. In later years there were more dead, and in their graves bodies are essentially heaped on top of one another. The newly discovered Farringdon bodies, just 2.5 metres below the surface, are neatly oriented and were probably wrapped in shrouds and interred: the Crossrail team have found shroud pins but no fabric remains and no sign of coffins. Pottery found at the same depth as the bodies has been dated to before 1350.

The skeletons will now be removed to the Museum of London Archaeology, where radiocarbon dating will determine the approximate age of the bodies. Skeletons discovered in a plague pit in nearby Smithfield yielded DNA markers identifying the plague bacterium Yersinia pestis.

“Our evidence suggests these are burials associated with that period and therefore that these are people buried during the emergency black death period,” says Carver. “If we can find a signature of that bacterium it will provide some interesting new data about this important historical event.”

The Crossrail team have a licence from the Ministry of Justice allowing them to exhume the remains, and at some point the archaeologists will make a decision about curation. Will the skeletons be reburied?

“They may be placed in a charnel store in a crypt, in case future generations want to study them,” says Carver. “It’s an academic and legal decision.”


Mega-brothel to open in Austria


An Austrian entrepreneur has announced plans to open Europe’s biggest brothel, with a complex boasting a 147 rooms and valet parking.

When opened in 2014 the giant brothel, officially dubbed the “FunMotel”, will have capacity for 1,000 “guests” a day with around 150 sex workers employed in the £12 million project. Along with room for buses it will also have 350 parking spaces and a three-metre high perimeter wall to ensure privacy.

Peter Laskaris, the businessman behind the project who already operates a brothel in Vienna, said that the glitzy bordello’s “four-star hotel” facilities will be the sex industry’s shift from “grocer to supermarket”.

The FunMotel will offer “swinger parties, gangbangs” and “porn stars” along with more mundane hotel attractions such as restaurants, beauty salon and gym. But 8Quadrat Developers, the Vienna-based company developing the project, claim that “the number of females” and the “affordable prices” will “ensure absolute satisfaction for male customers”.

The brothel will be built at a still undisclosed location in the north-eastern state of Lower Austria, which surrounds the Austrian capital.

“We’ve deliberately spread false information about the location to avoid trouble before we had the authorisation to go ahead,” Mr Laskaris told the Austrian newspaper Der Standard. “But it will be situated in a location that doesn’t bother anyone.” Werner Schmuck, a shareholder in the project, explained that new Viennese regulations requiring brothels to have official permits made locating the FunMotel in the capital an impractical option. The Austrian press reported that local authorities and the police have already given their consent to the project.

News of the mega-brothel has so far elicited a mixed reaction in a country where prostitution is both legal and regulated.

Sandra Frauenberger, councillor for women’s issues on Vienna town council, told Der Standard that moving prostitution “indoors was a priority because off the streets work is safe work.” But Birgit Hebeim, social affairs spokeswoman for the Vienna’s Green Party, said that she did not believe that “the women and their problems dissolve into thin air because they are no longer seen”.