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Stop the Presses: Skeletons and Not Buildings

Bubonic plague victims in mass grave. Photo (2011) by S. Tzortzis. Wikimedia Commons.
Bubonic plague victims in mass grave. Photo (2011) by S. Tzortzis. Wikimedia Commons.

You all know me by now. I couldn’t pass up this one.

On the corner of Rue Réaumur and Boulevard de Sébastopol in the second district of Paris stands a Monoprix supermarket. In January 2015, archaeologists discovered the building sits on top of a medieval cemetery.

Rows after rows of complete human skeletons (316 in total) were found buried in a mass grave. It turns out this was near the site of a medieval hospital called Hôpital de la Trinité. The occupants of this grave ranged from babies to the elderly (remember, in medieval times, elderly was often no greater than 40-years of age). Hospitals during the Middle Ages were not like the ones we know (i.e., places to cure the sick). They were primarily places where the poor could get food and a place to sleep.

Medieval burials in Paris were done in large pits. Once the pit was filled, it was covered up and a new pit was dug. During this excavation, they found 8 separate pits. The main pit contained 175 occupants. The lead archaeologist, Ms. Isabelle Adadie, indicated there was no trauma to any of the skeletons thus leading to the question of how these individuals died. DNA testing will reveal a lot. If it is found that all the skeletons are from a narrow time frame around the mid-1300s, it could be the bubonic plague that took their lives.

As most of you know from my prior blog posts, all the cemeteries located within the city limits were closed down in the 1800s with the remains transferred to the Paris Catacombs. As the archaeological team points out, Paris has been continuously occupied, and as such, excavations are difficult. A great example of this was the excavation during the construction of I.M. Pei’s pyramid at the Louvre. They discovered the foundations of the great royal palace and sections of the wall built by King Charles V.

One of the city’s archaeologists points out that over the centuries, Paris was continuously flooded. As they rebuilt, the soil was compacted and the level of the city slowly rose. Just think of what still lies below the surface on the Île de la Cité and other parts of Paris.

The archaeologists were very excited to find skeletons and not your average run of the mill ancient building. I guess it’s sort of like finding the remains of the English King Richard III buried under a church parking lot or the remains of the naughty nuns from an old English nunnery.

Anyway, stay tuned, as more information becomes known about these folks.

Please visit the complete article called A Grisly Find Under a Supermarket Illuminates France’s Medieval History.

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Copyright © 2015 Stew Ross

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