Supervisors: Janet Montgomery and Julia Lee-Thorp
A period of political and social upheaval, culminating in the Irish Potato Famine of 1847-1848, caused mass emigration. In 1851, records show that over a quarter of a million people left Ireland, many finally settling in London via other cities such as Liverpool. By 1897, 24% of the population of Whitechapel were immigrants. The Catholic cemetery at Lukin Street, East London, in use for a short period of 11 years from 1843 to 1854 and consecrated as the cemetery of the Catholic Mission of St Mary and St Michael, Whitechapel, was excavated by MOLAS in 2005 and found to contain 747 individuals. Of these, 194 have partially legible coffin plates which indicate that 32 of the 49 recorded surnames are of Irish origin, some from specific regions of Ireland; this may reflect expatriate communities that already existed in this area, as well as recent immigrants. Contemporary documents reveal that the diet of people in Ireland was extremely restricted as most foodstuffs were exported leaving potatoes as the chief source of food for the indigenous population. There was an attempt made to relieve the widespread famine by the importation of non-native maize (“Indian meal”) from America.
The aim of this study is to use high-resolution isotope measurements of human hair, cortical bone, and tooth enamel and dentine to identify isotopic markers of severe dietary stress, the consumption of maize (a C4 crop), and of migration. These could then be used to construct “life histories” for individuals and the combined population, and relate these to known historical records of famine and migration in the mid-nineteenth century.
Last Updated:15 February 2010