A medieval mass grave, which was found in Paris, France, suggests the region experienced a “mortality crisis.” Although it is unclear how the victims died, scientists confirmed the remains belonged to adults, children, and infants — who apparently died within a relatively short period of time.
Anthropologist and archaeologist Isabelle Abadie, with France’s National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research, led the excavation.
As reported by the New York Times, Abadie confirmed a total of eight separate graves, containing the remains of 316 people, were found in the basement of a Monoprix supermarket.
Archaeologists believe the site was originally used as a cemetery for the former Hôpital de la Trinité.
The largest grave, which is an estimated 1,000 square feet, contained the remains of 175 people. As the bodies were “neatly aligned head to toe,” they were likely buried toward the beginning of the crisis.
The remaining seven graves are much smaller. However, the bodies were buried haphazardly. Abadie suggests the victims were buried during the height of the “mortality crisis.”
— The New York Times (@nytimes) May 12, 2015
Abadie hopes DNA testing and carbon dating will help explain what sparked the crisis. As the remains do not appear to have any “traces of trauma,” she suggests the victims may have contracted the plague. It is also possible they simply starved to death amid a period of famine.
Hôpital de la Trinité was founded in the 1200s. Although it originally served as a hospital, it was also used as a religious community center, a vocational school, and a shelter.
The original building was demolished in 1812, but the site later became the location of the Rue Réaumur and Boulevard de Sébastopol retail stores. In the 1990s, the company was sold and the building was purchased by Monoprix.
Through the years, the cemetery was simply forgotten.
As reported by the Washington Post, the Medieval mass grave was found when Monoprix’s manager ordered a renovation of the grocery store’s basement. Archaeologists suspected the basement would contain medieval artifacts. However, they were stunned to discover the mass grave.
— DAILY SABAH (@DailySabah) March 12, 2015
Throughout the 18th century, thousands of corpses were transferred from Medieval cemeteries into Paris’ Catacombs. Although it is unclear why, the bodies located in the Hôpital de la Trinité were never moved.
Abadie confirmed the Medieval mass grave excavation is complete, and the remains were moved to the Inrap warehouse in La Courneuve. Each set of remains was cleaned, packed into a plastic bag, and numbered. Samples were sent away for DNA testing and carbon dating. However, the results are not expected for several months.
The medieval mass grave was a grisly find, but scientists hope the content will provide important clues Paris’ history.
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