Modern archaeological methods reveal the history of Castleton's hospital cemetery.

Blocks of soil containing two infant skeletons have this week been carefully removed from a burial site in Castleton and have been brought back to the Archaeology Department's laboratories for excavation and further investigation.

The two skeletons were discovered during the excavation of the site of a cemetery at the medieval hospital of Saint Mary of the Peak on the edge of Castleton in the Hope Valley.  Staff and students from the University of Sheffield's Archaeology Department have been undertaking fieldwork on the site for the past six years, during which time disarticulated human remains had occasionally been encountered; however it was not until 2013 that any substantial evidence for a cemetery came  to light.  This evidence was followed up in 2014 and this resulted in the discovery of at least eight adult burials as well as the burials of the two young infants.

One of the infant skeletons is excavated in the Lab.

Careful removal of the hard clay matrix in the laboratory slowly reveals the very fragile remains of the burial.

The Castleton burials site

Geoarchaeologist Samantha Stein takes samples from the grave fills for Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) dating

The two infant skeletons found at the site were not deeply buried, were poorly preserved and in a very fragile condition.  As the fills of the grave cuts are made of a heavy clay which provides a very heavy matrix to excavate through, it was realised that it would not be possible to excavate the two infant burials in the field without causing significant damage to the remains.  This week, therefore, the delicate task of lifting the two infant burials as blocks was carried out by Archaeologists from Sheffield University.  The blocks were then carefully transported to the Department of Archaeology's laboratories, where the job of excavating the fragile remains is being continued.

In order to understand who had been buried in this cemetery and to begin to confirm the connection between the medieval hospital and these burials,  four adult burials have already been excavated from the site.  During the excavation of these remains, samples were taken for Radiocarbon and Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) dating in the Luminescence Dating Laboratory of the Geography Department at the University.  This process was carried out in order to confirm the date of use of the cemetery and its relationship to the medieval hospital.  This is the very first time that OSL dating samples had been taken from grave fills in an archaeological excavation in the UK.

Castleton burials site

Aerial view of work taking place on the adult burials.  The two infant burials are protected under the plastic sheeting.