St Peter's Parish church, Lancashire
Exterior view of The Parish Church of St Peter, Darwen, Lancashire. 800 children's bodies were discovered at the St Peter's Burial Ground in Blackburn, LancashireGoogle

Archaeologists have unearthed the bodies of around 800 children under the age of six at the St Peter's Burial Ground in Blackburn, Lancashire. The bodies were exhumed ahead of the construction of a road in Lancashire.

They are among the 1,967 bodies exhumed at the burial ground which opened in 1821. Archaeologists believe the large number of child bodies found could be attributed to the lack of good sanitation and medicines.

The Darwen Borough Council said that the bodies were exhumed from 30% of the burial ground. A spokeswoman said the burial ground was in "intense use" right up to the 1860s.

Dave Henderson, an expert in the body of bones with Headland Archaeology said that the full analysis of the skeletons had barely started. The team however believes that most of the children had died from infections in the lungs and guts.

"They would have died quite quickly so the signs my not turn up in their skeletons," Henderson said. He said the town was becoming overcrowded at the time as it was a "very large centre for the industrial mills and the population grew very quickly."

He said the work on the bodies unearthed could shed light on the lives of ordinary people who lived outside London, where most of the previous large studies of this era had been conducted.

In its Facebook posting, Head Archaeology which was given the contract to excavate the burial ground, said that the company was also involved in the recording and removal of visible memorial stones, sensitive exhumation of around 30% of the burial ground and the full excavation of the church foundations.

In addition to the bodies, the excavators also found a time capsule hidden in the cornerstone of the building foundation. It contained a single sample of each of the 16 coins in circulation at the time of the construction of the church. The coins were the full set of 1820 George III coins.

The post-excavation team is now working to learn as much as possible about the life, health and death of Blackburn's Victorian population. "The research will also include specialist DNA analysis and examination of church records and other historical documents," the posting said.

The Lancashire Telegraph noted that the number of remains uncovered came as a surprise as the council had only expected around 200 graves to be excavated. Councillor Phil Riley said: "The actual number of human remains was a little surprising in view of the multiple burials often with infants."

He said: "One grave had 13 bodies in it. It shows the poverty and poor health of the people before the introduction of clean water and the terrible level of infant mortality." The remains discovered included that of an injured Crimean War veteran who may have been treated by Florence Nightingale and her pioneering team of military nurses, the newspaper said.

The remains uncovered will be re-interred elsewhere in the graveyard this summer with a special memorial service.