Paris (AFP) – A surprising discovery: more than 200 carefully arranged skeletons in mass graves have been discovered in a supermarket in the heart of Paris, testimony to the presence of a disused hospital cemetery
Are they dead of the plague? died because of famine? Archaeologists wonder because the deceased appear to have died en masse.
Since early January, a team of Inrap (National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research) conducts excavations under the Monoprix Reaumur Sebastopol, the old building Félix Potin, in the 2nd district. At this point, we know that was the cemetery of the Hospital of the Trinity founded in the twelfth century and destroyed at the end of the eighteenth century.
“As part of the redevelopment of the store, we decided remove a promontory that was on the second basement, which triggered preventive excavations “, told AFP Pascal Roy, director of the store. “We expected it to have a few bones to the extent that it had been a cemetery but not find mass graves,” he said.
At the time of the disaffection of the cemetery the remains of the deceased had been transferred in part to the Catacombs of Paris where they still are. “But apparently, the work has not been done well,” said the archaeologist Isabelle Abadie, who heads the dig.
“This is the first time a hospital cemetery was excavated in Paris , “she says, recalling that has already found in Marseille and Troyes particular.
To date, the area of 100 m2 which investigated eight mass graves were discovered. Seven of them have between five and twenty individuals, filed two to five levels.
The eighth hole, the most impressive, has uncovered more than 150 skeletons, arranged on several levels. “But there is another layer underneath,” says Ms. Abadie
-. ‘Head to Toe’ –
On a sandy ground, dozens of well-preserved skeletons are aligned against each other. People seem to have crossed arms and legs together, suggesting that they were wrapped in a sheet or shroud.
“What is amazing is that the body does not have thrown but deposited carefully organized manner. The individual men, women and children were placed ‘head to tail’ probably to save space, “shows the archaeologist. And once, on several levels
. “This suggests that there has been a lot of deaths of a sudden you have to find the cause of this mortality crisis + +.” epidemic? fever? famine ?. Paris was hit by several outbreaks of plague in the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The capital was also affected by smallpox in the seventeenth, she says.
The skeletal remains do not show damage to identify the cause of the mass death. DNA samples are underway to try to determine it. They will also help to establish possible genetic links between individuals.
Carbon 14 dating will also be made to understand how far back these mass graves. Archaeologists have found some pieces of medieval ceramics and most recent period.
The anthropological study of the skeletons should provide information on individuals (age at death, sex …). The study of ancient texts and maps of Paris should complement research
Now, a race against the clock is committed to archaeologists. They must have completed the excavation by 20 March to to allow the store to conduct its work.
The skeletal remains will be studied on a site Inrap. “They will be treated with respect,” said Jean-Pascal Lanuit, the Regional Direction of Cultural Affairs Ile-de-France. Then, “the State will undertake to find a place” for the dead.