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Mass Grave Under French Supermarket

Updated on May 17, 2015
Isabelle Abadie, the chief archaeologist on this discovery.
Isabelle Abadie, the chief archaeologist on this discovery.

The Monoprix Réaumur-Sébastopol supermarket (first created in 1860) in Paris had decided renovate its basement area. Located at the corner of the Rue Réaumur and the Boulevard de Sébastopol, they needed more space and this required some major foundation excavation. As the project evolved, the basement floor required removal digging into the earth it was built on. The market had been there for decades. The excavation teams began digging until they had dug up human remains. At first, it was just a single skeleton, but as soon as they cleared the remains and began digging again, another skeleton was found. Perplexed, these remains were cleared and digging resumed. The digging did not last long until a third, a fourth, a fifth, a sixth skeleton was found. Now the project halted.

French historians were brought in. What was the modern supermarket built on?

The digging stopped and France’s National Institute for Preventive Archeological Research took over the excavation site. While on the surface, the market remained opened, down below, a new national treasure had been discovered. The discovery was a cemetery belonging to a medieval hospital containing eight graves. Historical records show that in the 13th century, where the supermarket now exists, was the Hôpital de la Trinité. During its day, it served as an infectious disease control center, hospital, vocational training and a refuge for the poor. The hospital back then was located outside of the city limits and history indicates that in the 1340's, an epidemic did occur though much of Europe. The population of Paris then was around 1200.

But, what was found were near perfectly preserved skeletons of women, men and children in mass graves. While most of the eight graves contain between 7-10 remains, the 8th grave was massive, over 316! The total excavation area is 1000 square feet. All the remains were carefully placed in rows before being buried.

All of the remains show no signs of trauma or death from warfare, so the theory is the hospital was dealing with some sort of epidemic, plague or famine. This is the first time an intact cemetery was found in Paris city limits. Most other cemeteries in the area were exhumed in the 18th century and reburied in the Paris catacombs.

In 2006, in another Paris rebuilding project, remains and Roman foundations were unearthed dating back to the 5th century.


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    • perrya profile image

      perrya 2 years ago

      The carbon dating will help determine the causes. It could be a combo of reasons.

    • DWDavisRSL profile image

      DW Davis 2 years ago from Eastern NC

      If it was an epidemic, then it must have wiped out nearly a quarter of the then population of Paris.

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image

      Blackspaniel1 2 years ago

      I would be wary of whatever caused an epidemic is lying dormant here.

    • profile image

      Lee Cloak 2 years ago

      Very interesting stuff here, plague grave, a must read for anyone with an interest in archeology, a great share, voted up , Lee