Researchers unearth a necropolis near busy Paris station

A total of 50 graves, dating back 2000 years, belonged to the 'Saint Jacques' necropolis.
Jijo Malayil
The Port-Royal train station.jpg
The Port-Royal train station.

ArséniureDeGallium/ Wikimedia  

Researchers have unearthed a necropolis close to the busy train station of Port-Royal, located in the 5th arrondissement of Paris.

A necropolis is a fairly large, well-designed cemetery with elaborate tomb monuments, reflecting the ancient customs and beliefs of people residing in ancient times. A total of 50 graves were uncovered by scientists which provide information on human settlement in the French capital's precursor, Lutetia, nearly 2000 years ago.  

Surprisingly, the cemetery situated near the Port-Royal station was never discovered during multiple road works over the years, and the station's construction in the 1970s. However, plans for a new way out of the station led to an excavation.

A team from France's National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP), which led the excavation, said that it had a hint that the area was of historical importance. Camille Colonna, an anthropologist at INRAP, said in a statement that there were already "strong suspicions" that the site was near Lutetia's southern necropolis.

Part of Saint Jacques necropolis

The burial site discovered is known to belong to the "Saint Jacques" necropolis, the largest burial site in the Gallo–Roman town of Lutetia. The site was previously partially excavated in the 1800s. The earlier activity had resulted in only valuable objects being taken from the graves, with the "many skeletons, burial offerings, and other artifacts abandoned". In subsequent years, the necropolis was abandoned. 

Now, researchers discovered one section of the site that had never been unearthed before. "No one has seen it since antiquity," said Dominique Garcia, president of INRAP.

According to the team, they were "very happy" to have found a proper skeleton with a coin seen in its mouth, with the date of burial estimated to be around the 2nd century AD. The excavation started in March and has already uncovered 50 graves. 

A window into the world of Paris during Antiquity

The excavation has provided an opportunity for researchers to gather more information about the city in ancient times. Skeletons of men, women, and children are believed to be Parisii, a "Gallic people who lived in Lutetia, from when the town on the banks of the Seine river was under the control of the Roman Empire."

Burials used wooden coffins and alongside offerings such as ceramic jugs and goblets. According to the team, the practice of placing a coin in the coffin, or even in the mouth of the dead was followed, which was a widespread practice at the time. In addition, shoes inside the graves were also identified. They were placed "either at the feet of the dead or next to them, like an offering". Jewelry, hairpins and belts were some of the other items found.

The team plans to remove everything from the site for analysis, unlike in the 1800s. "This will allow us to understand the life of the Parisii through their funeral rites, as well as their health by studying their DNA," said Colonna.

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