The archaeological discovery, which was made over the span of two years, is something of a mystery. Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of at least 64 people, including men, women and children. But the bones come in all shapes and sizes, and dating them has proven a challenge.
The bones were gradually recovered between 2018 and 2020 during conservation works at St Nicholas Church in Gdansk, northern Poland.
The 12th-century church, one of the oldest in the city, was closed in October 2018 due to structural damage and the threat of collapse.
That same year, conservators stumbled upon the first batch of bones when working on the church’s western and southern walls.
Just two years later, even more human remains were recovered.
Archaeologist Dr Aleksandra Pudło said: “We found mostly hand bones, spine elements, forearm bones and many more.”
The bones most likely belonged to men, women and children aged 20 to 70.
And among them were the remains of at least six unborn children, which suggests heavily pregnant women were laid to rest under the church.
After analysing some 2,600 bones, Dr Pudło determined the archaeologists have uncovered the remains of 64 different people.
We found mostly hand bones, spine elements, forearm bones and many more
Dr Aleksandra Pudło, archaeologist
However, the experts have been unable to date the bones due to them being disturbed during past renovations.
Artefacts found alongside the remains suggest they people were buried in the early modern period, right after the late Middle Ages.
Dr Pudło said: “Based on these bones we can estimate the height of Gdansk’s residents.
“In the Middle Ages, women measured about 160cm and men were about 10cm taller.
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“In later centuries, the city began to get overcrowded, there were frequent epidemics, so living conditions were worse and, therefore, men and women were slightly smaller.
“Anthropological features also indicate the origin of the former inhabitants of Gdansk.
“People buried in the Middle Ages in St Nicholas Church came mainly from the surrounding lands, as well as from Kujawy, Greater Poland and even central Poland.
“A small influx of people from Scandinavia is also noticeable.”
After the extensive renovation efforts concluded, the church was reopened to the public last month.
On Saturday, September 5, a ceremony was held to bury some of the excavated remains.
A small wooden casket holding bones and three skulls was carried to the church’s crypts.
Prior Michał Osek said: “On September 5 we celebrate the liturgical commemoration of the deceased benefactors of the Dominican Order.”
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