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The Thousand-Year Graveyard

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Science  13 Dec 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6164, pp. 1306-1310
DOI: 10.1126/science.342.6164.1306

Scientists uncover a tortured history of disease and death from the Middle Ages onward.

BADIA POZZEVERI CHURCHYARD, ALTOPASCIO, ITALY—On a hot afternoon in July 2012, Giuseppe Vercellotti was digging up bones near the wall of an abandoned medieval church here, thinking about getting a cold drink, when he heard his students call his name. Faces glistening with sweat, they told him that they had found something strange buried half a meter down. Vercellotti took a look and saw a layer of lime, used in ancient times to squelch the stench of rotting corpses. When he tapped the hard layer with his trowel, it sounded hollow. "We immediately thought it was a mass grave," says Vercellotti, a biological anthropologist at Ohio State University, Columbus, who co-leads a field school here. "We instructors were all excited and hopeful."

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