Archaeology

A Grisly Find Under a Supermarket Illuminates France’s Medieval History

 A researcher at the site of the mass grave in central Paris.  Credit Denis Gliksman/Inrap
A researcher at the site of the mass grave in central Paris. Credit Denis Gliksman/Inrap

By Aurelien Breeden

PARIS — Past the racks of hair accessories on the ground floor of the Monoprix supermarket on the corner of the Rue Réaumur and the Boulevard de Sébastopol in the Second Arrondissement, there is a door marked staff only.

Slip through that passageway and turn left down a spiraling metal staircase into the basement. Past pallets of juice and soda bottles, down another flight of stairs, you will find a grim reminder of Paris’s history: a mass grave, with row upon row of medieval skeletons, 316 in total.

Archaeologists believe the discovery, unearthed in January, is part of the cemetery of a medieval hospital called the Hôpital de la Trinité that used to stand nearby. The long-buried mass grave is a reminder that Paris, for all its surface grandeur, is still replete with undiscovered archaeological treasures, some grand, others much more grisly.

“There are babies, there are young children, there are teenagers, there are adults, men, women, elderly people,” Ms. Abadie said on a recent afternoon at an Inrap warehouse in La Courneuve, a suburb on the northern outskirts of Paris, where the skeletal remains are now housed.

“This was a mortality crisis, that much is clear,” she added, gesturing toward stacks of crates that contained hundreds of numbered plastic bags, each of them full of bones tinted brown by the passing of centuries. Nearby, some of the remains had been carefully washed with water and toothbrushes and left to dry on metal trays.

Ms. Abadie and her team spent two and a half months excavating the remains from eight different graves covering more than 1,000 square feet, sometimes up to five people deep. In the main pit, 175 bodies were neatly aligned head to toe. Those found in the other, smaller graves were jumbled together — a sign, perhaps, of the rush to bury the dead during a worsening epidemic.

Everything you know about the Black Death is wrong, say the bones

Don Walker, a human osteologist with the Museum of London, poses with the skull of one of the skeletons found by construction workers under central London’s Charterhouse Square on Wednesday, March 26, 2014. Twenty-five skeletons were uncovered last year during work on Crossrail, a new rail line that’s boring 13 miles (21 kilometers) of tunnels under the heart of the city. Archaeologists immediately suspected the bones came from a cemetery for victims of the bubonic plague that ravaged Europe in the 14th century. The Black Death, as the plague was called, is thought to have killed at least 75 million people, including more than half of Britain’s population. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

In the autumn of 1348, a central Asian sickness arrived in London and quickly dispatched 60 percent of the city’s population. Within a decade, in what’s believed to be the worst human calamity of all time, something like 25 million Europeans were dead. And when they died, the secrets of their demise disappeared with them.

Until now.

On Sunday, London scientists who’d studied 25 skeletons discovered in a new rail line said everything we’d thought about the bubonic plague — what caused it, what kind of disease it was, its strength — was wrong. Most of the ensuing coverage focused on the finding that the disease wasn’t likely spread by rats’ fleas, as has been taught in every high school in the West, but had actually been airborne.

Uncovered: Ritual public drunkenness and sex in ancient Egypt

The goddess Mut’s temple complex led archaeologist Betsy Bryan to unearth a ritual of binge drinking and orgiastic sex called the Festival of Drunkenness. Here, a statue of Mut’s head is unveiled at the Egyptian Museum in 1999. (Philip Mark / July 30, 1999)

I’ll bet you that archaeologist Betsy Bryan’s perspective on reality-show behavior is a little longer than most. Since 2001, Bryan has led the excavation of the temple complex of the Egyptian goddess Mut in modern-day Luxor, the site of the city of Thebes in ancient Egypt. And the ritual she has uncovered, which centers on binge drinking, thumping music and orgiastic public sex, probably makes “Jersey Shore” look pretty tame.At least it was thought to serve a greater societal purpose.

Bryan, a specialist in the art, ritual and social hierarchy of Egypt’s New Kingdom (roughly 1600 to 1000 BC), has painstakingly pieced together the details of the Festivals of Drunkenness, which took place in homes, at temples and in makeshift desert shrines throughout ancient Egypt at least once and, in some places (including at the Temple of Mut), twice a year.

Archaeological treasures discovered in southern Turkey

Lying face down in more than a millennium of soil was a life-size marble head, the remnant of a sculpture of the goddess Aphrodite – still beautiful, though scarred by chips on its nose and face.

Shoveling and sweeping on an archaeology excavation to expose still-hidden portions of a 1,600-square-foot roman marble mosaic, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln archaeological team has unearthed a new treasure in southern Turkey.

Shoveling and sweeping on an archaeology excavation to expose still-hidden portions of a 1,600-square-foot roman marble mosaic, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln archaeological team has unearthed a new treasure in southern Turkey.

The sculpture’s body was missing, likely incinerated in a lime kiln many centuries ago.

By somehow escaping destruction, Aphrodite’s head provides yet another telling detail about how profoundly the region was affected by Greek and Roman culture during the first and second centuries, said project director Michael Hoff, Hixson-Lied professor of art history at UNL. Hoff returned to Nebraska in late August after spending nearly three months in Turkey.

The head, Hoff said, is the only piece of monumental sculpture recovered so far in an eight-year archeological dig at the site of Antiochia ad Cragnum (Antioch on the cliffs), an ancient Mediterranean city that once numbered perhaps 8,000 people.

Aphrodite’s head was a highlight of a 2013 excavation that also uncovered the vestiges of what appears to be a temple, with a second marble mosaic covering its interior floor.

Members of a UNL-led archeology team uncover the western portion of a 1,600-square-foot mosaic in southern Turkey. (Michael Hoff, UNL)

Oldest Gaming Tokens Found in Turkey

Small carved stones unearthed in a nearly 5,000-year-old burial could represent the earliest gaming tokens ever found, according to Turkish archaeologists who are excavating early Bronze Age graves.

Found in a burial at Başur Höyük, a 820- by 492-foot mound near Siirt in southeast Turkey, the elaborate pieces consist of 49 small stones sculpted in different shapes and painted in green, red, blue, black and white.

“Some depict pigs, dogs and pyramids, others feature round and bullet shapes. We also found dice as well as three circular tokens made of white shell and topped with a black round stone,” Haluk Sağlamtimur of Ege University in İzmir, Turkey, told Discovery News.

Under Turkish Mud, Well-Preserved Byzantine Chapel

DEMRE, Turkey — In the fourth century A.D., a bishop named Nicholas transformed the city of Myra, on the Mediterranean coast of what is now Turkey, into a Christian capital.

Nicholas was later canonized, becoming the St. Nicholas of Christmas fame. Myra had a much unhappier fate.

After some 800 years as an important pilgrimage site in the Byzantine Empire it vanished — buried under 18 feet of mud from the rampaging Myros River. All that remained was the Church of St. Nicholas, parts of a Roman amphitheater and tombs cut into the rocky hills.

Giant Roman Mosaic Unearthed in Turkey

Back in 2001, archaeologists took notice when marble fragments showed up on a freshly plowed field in southern Turkey. Now, more than a decade later, a dig organized by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has unearthed a giant ancient mosaic in what was once a far-flung corner of the Roman empire. Boasting an estimated 1,600 square feet of exquisitely decorated tiles, the find highlights the historical and archaeological importance of an overlooked region, experts believe.

The mosaic, thought to have been part of a bath complex, once lay within the provincial city of Antiochia ad Cragum, founded in the middle of the first century by the Roman client-king Antiochus IV. Until recently, historians and archaeologists did not realize how strongly Rome’s influence shaped the city, which fell under Roman rule, said University of Nebraska-Lincoln art history professor Michael Hoff. He and his colleagues—including students participating in a summer field school—have been excavating the ancient site since 2005. Along with the mosaic and bath, they have found evidence of Roman-style temples, markets, shops and streets, Hoff said.

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