Views & Reviews Review of the Week

Remains of the olden days

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 30 July 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a1038
  1. Wendy Moore, freelance writer and author, London
  1. wendymoore{at}

    An exhibition of human skeletons uncovered from building sites across London offers fascinating insights into the diseases of the past, writes Wendy Moore

    It was the philosopher Thomas Hobbes who in 1651 described life in its natural state as “nasty, brutish, and short.” This was undoubtedly the case for most of the 26 individuals whose struggle to survive before the arrival of modern medicine is described at London’s Wellcome Collection. Silently brought together in death, the 26 bodies that now share a space in the exhibition Skeletons eloquently bring to life the extraordinary and diverse history of London’s people and their health.

    Loaned by the Museum of London’s Centre of Human Bioarchaeology, these fractured, pitted, and scarred bones represent a tiny sample of the total 17 000 skeletons collected by the centre over 30 years. All have been recovered from forgotten burial grounds unearthed by bulldozers creating new homes and offices for London’s living. Just as London rises ever higher, so the strata containing the remains of its former inhabitants are uncovered in a reverse mirror …

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