Museums News Italy

Mass grave found under the Uffizi

Around 60 skeletons, showing no signs of trauma and buried in a hurry, could be the remains of Medieval plague victims

Archaeologists unearthed dozens of skeletons during expansion works at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Photo: AP/Francesco Bellini

A mass grave has been discovered by workers monitoring ongoing construction at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. The remains found buried under the museum could provide insight into a Medieval plague pandemic.

In the past five months, as work continues on the “New Uffizi” extension project, around 60 skeletons dating to the fifth or sixth century have been found. From the lack of any signs of trauma and the seemingly hurried way they were buried, archaeologists believe that the cause of death was an infectious disease.

According to the regional arm of Italy’s culture ministry in Florence, “the chronology of the burial site, once it has been verified by archaeological criteria and radiocarbon dating, could be compatible with the Justinian plague.” The superintendency is in discussions with the paleogenetics laboratory at the University of Mainz, Germany, to extract and reconstruct the DNA of the Uffizi skeletons. Analysis may reveal the presence of Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that caused the sixth-century pandemic that was named after the reigning Byzantine emperor and, 800 years later, the bubonic plague.

The macabre remains offer archaeologists an unprecedented sample from a lesser-known period in Florence’s history and are expected to yield new insights into how the city’s residents lived—and died—more than 1,500 years ago. And archaeologists expect to find more as they continue digging, since the Uffizi mass grave is “only a small portion of a vast burial ground”, the superintendency said.

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