The Museum of London's new exhibition tells the capital's history through the remains of its ancestors. Mark Crail found it fascinating

Health inequalities are nothing new. But we seldom have such compelling evidence of their effect as that currently on show at the Museum of London, where an exhibition of 'London Bodies' opened last week.

Remains from the medieval hospital of St Mary Spital, near Bishopsgate, show clear differences in the condition of bones and teeth left by the well-fed monks and the emaciated bodies of the sick and dying paupers in their care.

More gruesome exhibits include the decayed skull of an 18th century woman with syphilis, skeletons showing how rickets deformed our ancestors, and a torso model showing how our forerunners deformed themselves in the cause of fashion.

Drawing on skeletal remains found in the capital over the past 20 years and spanning, the organisers claim, '100,000 generations' of Londoners, the exhibition does more than confirm preconceptions about the poor health of our ancestors.

Reconstructions of Saxon city-dwellers show them to be similar in height to people living today - suggesting they were better fed, if nothing else, than their Roman ancestors or the generations which followed them.

And the exhibition raises questions about the past: who were the 10 per cent of 17th century Londoners with bathrocranic skulls, and where did they come from? Today this genetic trait is very rare. So where did they go?

London Bodies: changing shapes from prehistoric times to the present day, runs at the Museum of London until 21 February.

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