Blackfriars, Gloucester

Site Code: GLOU 19/91
Grid reference: SO 829 185

Blackfriars, Gloucester, was excavated in 1991 by Gloucester City Council Excavations Unit as part of a large scale excavation of the centre of Gloucester to enhance the Sites and Monuments Record office. The Dominican Friary was in use between AD 1246 and AD 1539. Although a site for the burial of mendicant friars, the Blackfriars cemetery contains the remains of a varied population of males, females, and children, many of whom were afflicted by disease, including a pre-Columbian case of treponemal disease, either yaws or syphilis.

Blackfriars 77

Age: Young Adult (18 - 25 years)
Sex: Female
Burial Position: extended and supine, west-east aligned

Pathology: Caries sicca is present on the occipital, right parietal and frontal bones. There is destruction of the nasal aperture and palate, with ante-mortem anterior tooth loss. Extensive proliferative lesions are present on the ribs, claviculae, scapulae, sternum, humeri, right ulna, right radius, right ilium, femora, tibiae and fibulae. Lytic lesions (cloacae) are present on the acromial processes of the scapulae and on the claviculae, indicating treponemal osteomyelitis. The proximal right radial head has been destroyed ante-mortem, a feature more commonly seen in yaws. Overall, the bony changes are indicative of treponemal disease, either syphilis or yaws.

Blackfriars 77 cranium
Image 1:
Anterior view of cranium showing multiple caries sicca lesions and destruction of the nasal aperture and pre-maxilla.

Blacfriars 77 caries sicca
Image 2:
Close up of caries sicca lesions on frontal bone. Different stages of healing are visible.

Blackfriars 77 tibia
Image 3:
Distal tibia with extensive proliferative new bone formation on the distal third.

References: Roberts, C.A. 1994. Treponematosis in Gloucester, England: a theoretical and practical approach to the pre-Columbian theory. In Dutour, O., Pálfi, G., Bérator, J. and Brun, J. (eds) L'origine de la syphilis en Europe, avant ou après 1493? Toulon: Centre Archéologique du Var. pp101-108

Last Updated:02 July 2007