AN investigation by Winchester University archaeologists into a medieval leprosy hospital features in a new book by the TV presenter Professor Alice Roberts.

Anthropologist Professor Roberts devotes a chapter to the project led Dr Simon Roffey and Dr Phil Marter at Magdalen Hill on the outskirts of Winchester in her latest book Crypt: Life, Death and Disease in the Middle Ages and Beyond.

The book recognisers how the lecturers’ work has helped archaeologists and historians rethink how they view the treatment of leprosy in the Middle Ages.

Magdalen Hill, by Alresford Road, was used as a 17th century prison of war camp and as a transit camp in the First World War. However, for at least 400 years from the late 11th century the hill had been home to a leprosarium (leprosy hospital).

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Hampshire Chronicle: Leprosy skeleton at Magdalen HillLeprosy skeleton at Magdalen Hill (Image: University of Winchester)

In 2000, the site had been the focus of small, rain-hit excavation for the Channel 4 programme Time Team which uncovered four graves and found geophysical evidence for walls and buildings.

Seven years later Dr Roffey and Dr Marter re-examined Time Team’s findings and, with the help of historic documents and began to develop a picture of what the hospital may have looked like.

This formed the basis for a long-term archaeological project. Excavations on the site of the medieval hospital began in 2008 and formed the context for the training of archaeology undergraduate students in excavation and recording.

Over the next seven years the excavations revealed evidence for more than 100 burials as well as a chapel, infirmary and almshouses.

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Hampshire Chronicle: Excavations at the chapelExcavations at the chapel (Image: University of Winchester)

The remains seem to have been buried with care and dignity which would seem to go against the belief that leprosy sufferers were treated as unclean outcasts.

Consequently, the University of Winchester archaeologists’ research has suggested the leprosariums may not have been isolation camps for the sick but, instead, were religious communities, much like monasteries, founded to care for their patients, many of whom would have survived and lived at Magdalen Hill in relative comfort.

Dr Roffey said: “It was a pleasure to be featured in Alice’s new book. Alice has always taken a great interest in our work at Magdalen Hill and we have featured previously on three of her programmes including Digging for Britain and Winchester: Britain’s Most Norman Town. The excavations have also featured on the BBC One Show, The Grave Trade and national and international news."