Two mass graves of plague victims and guillotine execution were discovered during excavations of Targ Sienny (Hay Market) in Gdańsk, at the former site of a St Gertrude’s hospital’s cemetery.
On a 90-square-metre area of the excavations two groups of burials were found, consisting of 1141 burials. The excavations are conducted prior to construction of the Forum Gdańsk building at a site where the St Gertrude’s hospital functioned between 14th and 16th century. One of the groups of skeletons, consisting of 970 bodies in three mass burials, is believed to belong to plague victims of the 14th century plague epidemic that occurred then for the first time in Gdańsk and last time in 1734. The skeletons belong to men, women, and children in all ages. They were carefully put next to each other to maximize the use of space of the graves. The cause of death of the individuals, whether plague, or some other contagious disease like pox or flu, will be established through DNA analysis of the remains.
Other group consists of 41 bodies, all decapitated young, strong males. They were possibly cut down on the guillotine, as the cut marks are very even and precise. At present it is not known who they were. Death sentences were usually carried out on those who were guilty of murder or state treason, so the researchers believe that the individuals might have been rebels, deserters or bandits. No heads belonging to the individuals were found so far. It is possible that, according to the custom, the executioner has mounted them on poles and places in public places. Although archaeologists believe a guillotine was used, there are no historic sources testifying of its existence among Gdańsk’s executioner’s repertoire of torture tools
Beside these groups of skeletons further 130 remains were discovered. Some of them were buried within coffins made of pine wood. Overall from the cemetery site, in over 200 cases beside bones also dehydrated brain tissue was preserved. These brains will be analysed by specialists in order to determine the paleopathologies and general health state of the city’s former population. All human remains will be buried in a mass grave at the Łostowicki cemetery once the research is over.
(after Gdańska Strefa Prestiżu & Dantiscum)