Norwich skeletons to be re-buried after 800 years
15:36 18 March 2013
Seventeen suspected victims of religious persecution found at the bottom of a Norwich well are to be buried - an estimated 800 years after their deaths.
The skeletons, which included the remains of 11 children, were found during archaeological digs in 2004 ahead of work to build the Chapelfield Shopping Centre, in St Stephens Street.
Tests later suggested the medieval bones, thought to have been there since the 12th century, had DNA consistent with Jewish communities although research is still being carried out.
Norwich’s Jewish community will tomorrow bury the remains of the unknown people at the Jewish Cemetery in Earlham Cemetery.
Clive Roffe, Norwich representative on the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said he is not aware of any genetic test which could prove 100pc the skeletons are Jewish as there is no common gene.
But he said based on the information available it seemed “pretty convincing” and they were of the belief the skeletons are Jewish.
Mr Roffe said the burial will follow traditional Jewish practices and customs.
He said: “It’s a sad thing but it’s recognising they might have been victims of religious persecution. This is going back to medieval times and none of our memories are that good.
“We are dealing with it all in a decent and respectful way.”
Mr Roffe said they were only alerted of the potential links following the BBC’s History Cold Case programme screened in 2011.
This presented research which concluded the people were likely to have been murdered or committed suicide and ruled out natural death.
Mr Roffe said: “The burial was a decision as a result of the discussions with the museums service. The whole thing is an historic event.”
Studies into the history of the skeletons are to continue, despite the burial.
Dr John Davies, chief curator and keeper of archaeology at the Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service, said the research will include examining the ethnic origin of the bones in an attempt to understand what happened.
Dr Davies said it was a “delicate and sensitive” issue and they had done what they could to assist the request for burial by the city’s Jewish community.
He said: “The initial suggestion they were categorically Jewish has not been borne out but studies are still continuing. We will not know for some time yet. The DNA is being looked into in Germany.
“I don’t know if we will ever understand why they were there. There’s a great deal of speculation. The excavation itself is the context, not particularly the DNA analysis.
“It’s a very touching, very unusual, very poignant and very sad deposit with such a great deal of skeletons in the bottom of the well.
“It smacks of some very unfortunate episode which I couldn’t begin to speculate on.”