Workers demolishing a section of Westminster Abbey to make room for a new tower stumbled upon something most unexpected (at least in that part of the abbey): the remains of at least 50 people, including the skeleton of a 3-year-old, that archaeologists believe date back to the 11th and 12th centuries, the Guardian reports.
The “skulls and leg bones stacked up into dense piles like firewood” were discovered under Victorian drainage pipes outside the wall of Poets’ Corner, where famous literary figures such as Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling are buried and where memorials have been erected to such notables as Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Jane Austen.
The estimated date of the remains means the deceased may have witnessed the chaotic events of 1066 in England, including the Norman invasion, the Guardian notes.
The bodies—which were found by archaeologists after a lavatory block “built as solidly as a nuclear bunker,” per the excavation’s leader, was moved to make way for the abbey’s first new tower in 300 years—were believed to have been shoved under the pipes when Henry III was tearing down Edward the Confessor’s church and replacing it with his new abbey in the mid-1200s.
The Guardian notes that some of the skulls had square holes, likely left by the pickaxes used by 13th-century workers. One of the mysteries from the find: Why the 3-year-old, whose gender can’t be determined without further tests, was found there, though the fact that the child was buried in a wooden coffin likely means he or she was of high status, per the Guardian.
The remains will be reburied properly within the abbey after they’ve been studied. (An “exceptional” find in Rome could alter how we view the ancient city.)