Ancient Communal Grave Found Under Paris Grocery Chain, 200 Buried Plague Victims?

Workers in France made a startling find during a renovation of a popular grocery store recently: bones, and a heap of them. Archaeologists were called in and found an ancient grave site underneath the Monoprix supermarket in Central Paris that contained some 200 bodies. Experts believe the medieval burial chamber was created in wake of a mass epidemic that killed the victims, possibly a plague, wrote the Local.

As shoppers scurried about their day in the grocery outlet located on the well-traveled thoroughfare, Sebastopol Boulevbard, a team of diggers from France’s Institute of Preventative Archeological Research (Inrap) were busy at work excavating the skeletal remains of several hundred bodies that were neatly arranged in rows, some five-bodies deep.

A shopper, only known as Pierre, weighed in when he learned the news about the ancient communal grave discovery underneath the French supermarket.

“It’s rather a bizarre thought. Still, there’s all sorts of odd things buried under Paris.”

Others who learned about the big dig expressed indifference. However, Solène Bonleu, who is taking part in studying the medieval remains, thinks the ancient community grave site is a big deal.

“We had expected to find a few human remains as we knew it was a former hospital cemetery, but nothing like as many as we have found. We’ve come across hospital cemeteries before, notably in Marseilles and Troyes, but it’s the first discovery of its kind in Paris.”

Hôpital de la Trinité (Trinity Hospital) once stood on the same site where the ancient burial site was unearthed. The facility, erected in 1202, was operated by monks. Its primary focus was to provide medical care to poverty-stricken individuals and travelers. Over a century later, officials approved plans for land around the hospital to be used for a cemetery. In the 16th century, a part of the hospital was made into an orphanage. The entire facility was closed for operation during the French Revolution, and in 1817, it was acquired by private owners and later torn down.

All told, about eight different mass grave sites were found at the archaeological dig. However, scientists have reason to believe this is just the tip of the iceberg. The consensus is that because the bodies were found buried in a communal gave, it is likely the victims all succumbed as a result of the bubonic plague or smallpox that existed during the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries.

Isabelle Abadie, who heads up the effort to excavate the ancient remains at the mass grave, believes there is at least one additional layer that contains bones.

“What is astonishing is that the bodies were not thrown in, but put there with care and in an organized way. The individuals – men, women and children, were placed head-to-toe, no doubt to save space.

“It suggests there were a lot of sudden deaths, but we still have to find the cause of this sudden fatal event and whether it was an epidemic, fever, famine.”

Upon completion of forensics designed to date the remains and discover a cause of death, the bones from the ancient graves in Paris will be reburied, according to state law. Meanwhile, information sourced from the bones and artifacts will hopefully shed light on ancient funerary practices and the evolution of medicine.

[Photo credit: China Photos /Stringer/Getty Images]