Lets keep back a skeleton or two

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					                    The Parish Magazine of Rivenhall and Silver End - July 2001



                 "LET'S KEEP BACK A SKELETON OR TWO!"

         A STORY OF A SKELETON IN A LONDON CUPBOARD.

        There was much archaeological work at Rivenhall in the early 1970s. I as rector, was assured
that existing graves would not be involved and it was with some surprise to me when I discovered the
huge number of ancient skeletons which had been taken by train up to London for examination. I only
realized the full extent when they arrived back for re-interment in early October 1977. They were all
neatly and separately packed in polythene bags, each with its own Department of the Environment tag
attached. They almost filled the empty Harrison vault where the stained glass had been buried in World
War 2. After the 8 a.m. service on Sunday 9th Oct.1977. The vice chairman of the P.C.C., Mr.Alan
Jordan with the parish worker, Miss Doreen Jones came with me as witnesses as we read part of the
burial service and finally laid these ancient remains to rest. The burial register records:
"The mortal remains of some 400 Saxon, Medieval and Tudor parishioners which had been subjected to
scientific examination - London - in the tomb of Margaret Harrison, died 1750 (Vault) Witnessed:
D.O.Jones; L.A.Jordan."
   And then I read in 'THE TIMES' of Thursday 31st May 2001:

ESSEX GIRL CLAIMS AN HISTORIC FIRST: SYPHILIS”, BY HELEN STUDD

It was Voltaire who gave weight to the belief that not every thing the conquistadors brought from the
Americas was life-enhancing when he wrote, “The first fruit the Spaniards brought from the New World
  But now the skeleton of an early Essex girl has cast doubt on the traditional origins of syphilis in this
country.
  Female bones dug up in a churchyard in Rivenhall near Witham, are thought to disprove the long-
standing belief that Christopher Columbus was responsible for importing the disease into Europe in the
late 15th century.
  English Heritage has unearthed a skeleton of a woman, aged between 25 and 50, who suffered from
the venereal disease at least 50 years before Columbus discovered America in 1492.
  Scientists are 95 per cent certain that the woman, who is believed to have contracted the disease up to
a decade before her4 death, lived in the medieval settlement between 1200 and 1445.
  Historians have previously assumed that the Spanish adventurer and his crew imported the disease
into Europe from the New World after contracting it during sexual trysts with the natives.
  This is the first time that any example of the sexually transmitted disease has been found in Europe
that can be dated prior to Columbus’s time.
  Simon Mays, a researcher from English heritage who made the discovery with Gillian Crane-Kramer,
an American PhD student, said he was confident it was an accurate diagnosis. “People have always
attacked finds like this on the grounds that the diagnosis of the dating was problematic. The importance
of this find is that it is well dated by scientific methods and it’s a firm diagnosis”, he said.
  While it is difficult to distinguish endemic syphilis from venereal syphilis, we are almost certain that
in this case it is the latter. It entirely undermines the theory that Columbus brought the disease back
from the New World.”
  The skeleton was exhumed in the 1970’s but had remained locked away until last year. Miss Crane-
Kramer rediscovered the bones by chance while conducting research for her PhD project and sent them
to a laboratory in Toronto, Canada, to be radiocarbon dated.
Although Rivenhall woman will not achieve the fame of such figures as Neanderthal man, she deserves
a place in history. She also deserves her remains to be returned to Rivenhall churchyard and to be re-
buried with a suitable headstone and carefully chosen words. Her fame follows what was probably a
                   The Parish Magazine of Rivenhall and Silver End - July 2001

painful and infamous local death. For her remains to be held in London without any kind of authority is
to show her a final piece of disrespect!

David Nash 6 June 2001

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