BBC4's Digging for Britain to film in Hull as burial ground exhumation reveals gruesome evidence of precautions against bodysnatchers

One of the country’s best-known archaeologists, Prof Alice Roberts, will be in Hull on Monday filming for BBC 4’s Digging for Britain.

One of the country’s best-known archaeologists, Prof Alice Roberts
One of the country’s best-known archaeologists, Prof Alice Roberts

More than 9,000 burials have been exhumed from the city’s Trinity burial ground as part of the £355m upgrade of Castle Street.

The dig has revealed gruesome evidence of the precautions people took against bodysnatchers at a time when memories of the murders by William Burke and William Hare in Edinburgh were still fresh.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The grave of a young engineer, William Watkinson was found wrapped in a cage-like structure known as a “mortsafe” to prevent grave robbers stealing the body to sell for dissection.

More than 9,000 burials have been exhumed from the city’s Trinity burial ground as part of the £355m upgrade of Castle Street.

Evidence that his friends were right to have been concerned lay only 30 yards away - in a coffin containing the remains of a 20 to 25-year-old man, whose body had been dissected and the top of his skull sawed off to examine the brain.

The archaeologists, who have been working under huge tents next to the A63 for the nine months, have uncovered another five or six rudimentary “mortsafes” close to the northern wall of the cemetery.

Unlike the distinctive cage around Watkinson’s coffin, these have had just a few straps wrapped round them.

A heartbreaking number of the remains in the cemetery - around half - were of children, and many of those were very young indeed.

The first five years of life were the most perilous, with many children dying from conditions like typhus - caused by infected mites, fleas, or lice - measles and dysentery

In labs next to the huge tents where the excavations are being carried out, a team of 10 osteologists has been examining the bones of 1,500 skeletons from the dig.

The bones are examined to look for evidence of injury, while some chronic long-term illnesses - like scurvy and rickets - can leave their mark.

Around a third of the burial ground has been dug up, and in all around 9,500 burials will be exhumed and reburied onsite.

The dig is expected to end in July, with the laboratory work due to be completed by the end of August.