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Large medieval necropolis excavated in outskirts of Paris

One of the largest French burial sites is being uncovered in Noisy-le-Grand located in the eastern suburbs of Paris, by archaeologists from the Institut national recherches archéologiques préventives (Inrap). It is located in the heart of the town centre, less than a kilometre from the town hall on rue des Mastraits.

Large medieval necropolis excavated in outskirts of Paris
Credit: Sébastien Thomas/LP
In total, the necropolis, whose boundaries are still not precisely delineated, could contain almost 3,000 burials dating from the Merovingian and Carolingian periods, between the 6th and 11th centuries. After a first excavation campaign in 2009, a second one has just begun a few weeks ago. It will last until the end of November.

Armed with her spatula and brush, archaeologist Christel Delozanne delicately frees a skeleton from its earthly shroud. "It's always fascinating to dig up a part of our history in an attempt to better understand our past," she says. "And maybe discover something new". After a month and a half, several dozen skeletons have already been dug up.

Large medieval necropolis excavated in outskirts of Paris
Credit: Sébastien Thomas/LP
But that is nothing compared to the 651 that have already been excavated in 2009. In this area specialists were able to see clear differences between the various periods. Among the Merovingians, for example, the dead were buried in sarcophagi, dressed and decorated with objects," says Cyrille le Forestier, site manager. "In the Carolingian era, on the other hand, the Church increased its influence and demanded more austerity. The bodies are buried in the earth, naked in a shroud, without ostentation."

"This increased piety also translates into a very specific ordering of the bodies. The head was placed in a cephalic chamber, a cavity that followed its contours, in order to position it towards Jerusalem," continues Cyril le Forestier. "It was also held upright by placing the hands underneath so that the jaw would not detach and thus avoid the famous sardonic laughter of the skull."

Large medieval necropolis excavated in outskirts of Paris
Credit: Sébastien Thomas/LP
"Paradoxically, Carolingian bodies are much better preserved than their ancestors. By being placed on the ground, they benefitted from a kind of cocoon that held each bone in its place. On the other hand, the oxygen bubble contained in the sarcophagi, which literally means "body eater", has caused much more damage to the Carolingian skeletons."

"Listed and labelled, these bodies and objects will be analyzed in the laboratory. The results will make it possible to discover their diets, deficiencies, diseases and draw up demographic profiles ", explains Dorothée Derieux, heritage curator at the regional archaeology department. "And thus discover the lifestyle of a population that has left no written records."

Source: Le Parisien [October 30, 2017]

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