Lost For Two Millennia: Ancient Necropolis Found Beneath Paris Train Station
Beneath a bustling train station, archaeologists have found ancient graves loaded with artifacts that date back nearly 2,000 years. The burials belong to a lost necropolis of the Gallo-Roman town of Lutetia, the predecessor of modern-day Paris.
A Vast Ancient Necropolis, Overlooked
In March, nearly 1.3 million enraged French people demonstrated Emmanuel Macron's unpopular plan to raise France’s minimum pension age from 62 to 64. Battling police amidst 10,000 tonnes of rubbish that piled up after bin collectors went on strike, the rioters were unwittingly protesting on top of hundreds of graves buried in an ancient cemetery.
The site was overlooked when the construction of Port-Royal station, on the historic Left Bank, began in 2014. Named after the nearby 17th century Port-Royal abbey, this project involved the building of a new station and extensive renovations to the surrounding area, but somehow, the lost necropolis was overlooked.
Saint Jacques Necropolis
It was only when plans were announced for a new station exit that France's National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research ( INRAP) opened a series of test trenches over 200 square metres (2152.78 sq ft) of land around the station.
According to a report in France24, the burials were found near the Saint Jacques Necropolis that was built in the heart of what is now Paris. According to France’s Ministry of Culture , it was the largest burial site in the Gallo-Roman town of Lutetia and was in use from the first to the third century AD.
Camille Colonna, an anthropologist at INRAP, said archaeologists had long suspected that the site was close to Lutetia's southern necropolis. Saint Jacques necropolis was partially excavated in the 1800s, at which time only the most valuable grave goods were recovered. However, the skeletons, and less valuable wooden burial offerings were left in situ. INRAP president, Dominique Garcia, said the site was lost in time, and that “no one has seen it since antiquity."
- Ancient Lutetia: The Roman Roots of Paris
- Reign of Terror Victims Found Hidden in the Walls of a Paris Church
Buried Necropolis discovered in Paris… https://t.co/H6sYG2tgqx
— Citizen Free Press (@CitizenFreePres) April 19, 2023
Following Ancient Footsteps
The excavation, which began in March, has so far identified 50 graves, and all of the interred people belonged to the Parisii Celtic tribe . Inhabiting the region around the south banks of the Seine River in Paris during the 2nd century AD, the Parisii were skilled in agriculture, metallurgy, and long distance trading. The Parisii established the city called Lutetia (now Paris), and while they fiercely resisted Roman conquest, they were subjugated in the 1st century BC.
Helping to date the burials: ceramic Jewellery, hairpins and belts, jug goblets, dishes, glassware and other grave goods have been recovered. According to INRAP, the positions of hundreds of small iron nails, that attached soles to leather shoes, informed the archaeologists that while some were placed on the feet of the interred, others had been buried with shoes on either side of the bodies as a type of offering.
A Ticket For The River Styx
Inside one coffin, the whole skeleton of a pig was discovered, and another small animal’s skeleton was discovered inside a sacrificial pit which is believed to have been an offering to the gods. Furthermore, a coin was found lodged inside the mouth of a buried person. Known as "Charon's obol," the coin reflected the story told in Greek mythology of Charon, in which a coin was given to the ferryman of Hades, to carry the souls of the deceased across the river Styx.
Colonna said, where archaeologists in the 1800s only recovered valuable items, the modern team is removing “everything from the necropolis” for analysis. The heritage boss added that this will not only allow a better understanding of the Parisii people through their funeral rites, but by studying their DNA, new data will be gathered pertaining to Parisii lifestyles and diets.
Top image: Skeleton in ancient grave at archaeological excavation (representational). Source: Mulderphoto / Adobe Stock.
By Ashley Cowie