Skeletons: London's buried bones, 23 July-28 September 2008
3 June 2008
'Skeletons: London's buried bones' features a broad range of telling examples from a collection of 17 000 skeletons that have been archived and examined at the Centre over the last 30 years. Each has its own tale to tell, and collectively they uncover 2000 years of history, increasing our understanding of how Londoners once lived, and providing insights into the health, diet, diseases and lifestyle of the deceased.
Exhibition dates: 23 July-28 September
Venue: Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE. Admission free
Gallery opening times: Tues.-Wed., Fri.-Sat.: 10.00-18.00; Thurs.: 10.00-22.00; Sun.: 11.00-18.00. Closed Mon. (except bank holidays: 10.00-18.00).
Press preview: Tuesday 22 July, 09.30-13.00. A chance to preview the exhibition and meet with the curators. Contact Mike Findlay for details (see notes below).
The skeletons include: a 22-week-old fetus whose remains were found with its mother, which is the youngest ever individual discovered on a British archaeological site; Chelsea's resident butcher and beadle, William Wood, who had a condition linked to having a diet high in rich foods and died at the ripe age of 84 in 1842; a young female discovered at the Royal Mint, whose bones were stained green from copper residues; and a young woman (possibly a prostitute) found in Crossbones burial ground in South-east London with traces of syphilis in her bones.
Ken Arnold, Head of Public Programmes at the Wellcome Trust, explains:
"This show proves just how much the scientific study of bones can add to rather than detract from our emotional encounters with skeletal material, highlighting our connections to thousands of earlier Londoners who lived, died and were buried in this great city, while their remarkable diversity builds a picture of historical London as a city of contrasts between its wealthy and its poor."
Each of the 26 skeletons will be accompanied by a recent image taken by photographer Thomas Adank of the burial site where they were discovered. Analysis of the skeletons also provides insights into, for example, the population's height. As Bill White, bioarchaeologist from the Museum of London explains: "People assume that the increase in average height seen today came about gradually, but that's not what we see. Comparing the average height today, the Romans were slightly smaller, the Saxons were much taller, and people from the early medieval period were shorter again."
Speaking of the research at the Museum of London's Centre for Human Bioarchaeology, Jelena Bekvalac comments:
"Through intensive research and analysis of the bones you can build a picture, but it's really important that you put them into context. It's not just a skeleton or group of skeletons. We need archaeological information to bring them back to life…It's not just about learning about the past, it has implications for now and potentially for the future too."
Tickets are free but must be booked in advance. For information and bookings, visit the Wellcome Collection events page or call 020 7611 2222.
Dem Bones, Thursday 31 July, 14.00-18.00
Getting to grips with your bones
To mark the opening of 'Skeletons: London's buried bones', there will be activities suitable for all ages throughout the day.
- Meet the Museum of London's bioarchaeologists and discover what they learn from studying skeletons
- Join Gethan Dick to assemble giant body parts
- Contribute to a soundscape with poet Aoife Mannix.
London's Dead, Thursday 18 September, 19.00-20.30
Join a panel of experts to debate how we use the dead in our city
When do we stop to consider the bodies that lie beneath our feet? What rights does a dead body have, and how do these rights change and over time?
This event will bring scientific, philosophical and historical perspectives together to consider London's dead.
Notes to editors
For further details, images, interview requests or to attend the press private view please contact:
Mike Findlay, Media Officer (Wellcome Collection)
T 020 7611 8612
'Skeletons: London's buried bones' is co-curated by James Peto and Emily Jo Sargent.
Skeletons: London's Buried Bones
A 64-page book to accompany the exhibition, which includes all of the burial site photographs commissioned for the exhibition, case studies of five of the skeletons and an interview with the osteologists from the Museum of London.
Available in Blackwell bookshop, Wellcome Collection (£5).
Wellcome Osteological Research Database
A Wellcome Trust-funded online database has detailed data on 11 000 skeletons. The Wellcome Osteological Research Database (WORD) is run by Bill White and his team at the Museum of London Centre for Human Bioarchaeology. It has transformed the way people use osteological information from the Museum, allowing researchers to do 'virtual studies' from their own desks. The database is also important as a conservation tool, as it reduces the amount of specimen handling and provides a record of what's been done before, preventing the duplication of sampling.
Medics, dentists and other researchers can use the data for many purposes: to try to find when a particular disease arose; what sort of factors were involved; what medical interventions were made etc.
The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity in the UK. It funds innovative biomedical research, in the UK and internationally, spending around £650 million each year to support the brightest scientists with the best ideas. The Wellcome Trust supports public debate about biomedical research and its impact on health and wellbeing.
Wellcome Collection has exceeded expectations since launching in June 2007. It has attracted over quarter of a million visits in under one year. The Wellcome Trust's former headquarters, the Wellcome Building on London's Euston Road, has been redesigned by Hopkins Architects to become a new £30m public venue. Free to all, Wellcome Collection explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future. The building comprises three galleries, a public events space, the Wellcome Library, a café, a bookshop, conference facilities and a members' club.
Wellcome Collection's lively programme of challenging exhibitions and events - ranging from 'The Heart' exhibition, 'Sleeping & Dreaming', and portrait photographs of the dead, through to debates, performances, and late-night events on topics as broad as organ donation, flesh, design, chronic fatigue syndrome and stem cell research - have captured the imagination of many and met with wide-reaching critical attention from national and international press and broadcasters.
Museum of London
The Museum of London is one of the largest urban museums in the world and has an archaeological and research team that has worked on over 5000 sites across London during the past 30 years. The sites have yielded a collection which fills over 120 000 boxes with London's past - from skeletons to Roman murals and Tudor tennis balls to World War II toy airplanes.
The Museum of London is currently redeveloping its lower galleries to retell the story of London and Londoners from 1666 to the present day. The £20.5m project will revitalise the galleries and create a glass window overlooking London Wall. The new galleries will open in spring 2010 with significantly increased access to the Museum's collections, both in the galleries and online. Throughout the redevelopment work, visitors will continue to be able to discover the city's many incarnations in the London before London, Roman London, and Medieval London galleries, together with London's Burning, the Great Fire of London 1666, and a series of topical exhibitions and events. For more information see the Museum of London website or email email@example.com.