An enormous plague pit containing almost 50 victims of the Black Death has been uncovered in Lincolnshire.
The mass grave in the grounds of Thornton Abbey near Immingham has revealed to archaeologists the history of the devastating disease.
Archaeologists believe the grave, containing the remains of 48 victims, including 27 children, is one of the earliest of its kind ever found in Britain.
They have dated the pit to 1348-49 when the plague first devastated Lincolnshire.
Around half of England's population was wiped out within 18 months of the first Black Death pandemic.
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But despite that, direct archaeological evidence of the Black Death is extremely rare, according to Hugh Willmott from the University of Sheffield who led the dig.
His findings from the pit, originally uncovered in 2012, have been published for the first time in the journal Antiquity.
He said: "One of the assumptions in the past has been that perhaps you get mass graves in towns where you have a higher density of people, whereas in villages people were being buried as normal in the parish churchyard.
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"But actually what this suggests is that this was a rural community that couldn't cope, and when the Black Death arrived, the normal system for doing things broke down."
The grave was discovered accidentally during a survey of the ruins of Thornton Abbey, a former Augustinian priory close to Immingham in north Lincolnshire, six miles south of Hull.
Archaeologists found the site of a medieval hospital nearby, suggested the dead and dying were brought there by desperate relatives as the plague overwhelmed the community.
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"People couldn't be buried in the parish graveyard – perhaps the priest or the gravedigger has died – so you turn to the church, the canons at the abbey down the road," Hugh said.
"This is a snapshot of a not often seen rural catastrophe."
He said the way the bodies had been laid in the grave showed they had all been buried in the space of a few days.
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But despite that, all of the victims had been carefully shrouded and lain side-by-side in the pit.
"They are trying to treat them as respectfully as possible because in the middle ages it's very important to give the dead a proper burial," Huge explained.
"Even though it is the height of a terrible disaster, they are taking as much care as they can with the dead."
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By the 1350s, England's population was half what it had been before the Black Death outbreak, but despite that, life was able to carry on remarkably similar to before, according to the report.
"The Black Death, or any pandemic, is a very personal tragedy for anyone who's affected," Hugh told LiveScience.
"However, perhaps this medieval outbreak also reveals a valuable lesson about human resilience and recovery in the aftermath of runaway infectious disease.
"This devastating pandemic, while serious, didn't collapse civilisation. As a human race, we experienced this and moved on."
Last year, a stunning new investigation claimed that the Black Death was caused by humans, not rats, as was previously thought.
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