The discovery was made in the basement of a Monoprix supermarket located on Rue Sebastopol. The archaeologists have found eight separate mass grave so far. Seven of them have between five and twenty individuals, buried two to five deep. The eighth grave has at least 150 dead. They were deposited carefully and show a deposit method very organized: at least two rows of individuals are filed “head to tail”, a third row seeming to grow beyond the limits of the excavation. The bodies are buried five to six deep.
“We expected it to have a few bones to the extent that it had been a cemetery but not find mass graves,” store manager Pascal Roy told Agence France Presse.
This very large mass grave appears to correspond to a mortality crisis whose cause is currently unknown. Adults (women and men of all ages) and children are represented. The skeletal remains do not show damage to immediately identify the cause of the mass death. Paris was struck by the Black Death in the 14th century, and suffered other plagues in following centuries.
“What is surprising is that the bodies were not thrown into the graves but placed there with care. The individuals – men, women and children – were placed head to toe no doubt to save space,” said archaeologist Isabelle Abadie, who is leading the dig.
The site was once home to l’hôpital de la Trinité, which was built in 1202. Located just outside the medieval walls of Paris, the hospital provided care for pilgrims and the poor. By the 16th century the site had become an orphanage and its buildings were torn down in 1817.
France’s National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) plan to carry out extensive research on the site. They note that many aspects of funeral practices associated with medieval and early modern hospitals remain unknown in France, with less than a dozen sites in the country have been the subject of archaeological studies. They will soon carry out DNA testing in order to learn more about the people who were buried here.