Category Archives: FRANCE

2,000-Year-Old Parisii Cemetery Unearthed in France

2,000-Year-Old Parisii Cemetery Unearthed in France

One of the skeletons unearthed in an ancient necropolis found metres from a busy Paris train station © Thomas Samson/AFP/File

Just metres from a busy train station in the heart of Paris, scientists have uncovered 50 graves in an ancient necropolis which offer a rare glimpse of life in the French capital’s precursor Lutetia nearly 2,000 years ago.

Somehow the buried necropolis was never stumbled upon during multiple road works over the years, as well as the construction of the Port-Royal station on the historic Left Bank in the 1970s.

However, plans for a new exit for the train station prompted an archaeological excavation.

Camille Colonna, an anthropologist at France’s National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP), told a press conference that there were already “strong suspicions” the site was close to Lutetia’s southern necropolis.

The “Saint Jacques” necropolis, the largest burial site in the Gallo–Roman town of Lutetia, was previously partially excavated in the 1800s.

However, only objects considered precious were taken from the graves, with the many skeletons, burial offerings and other artifacts abandoned.

The necropolis was then covered over and again lost to time.

The INRAP team discovered one section that had never before been excavated.

“No one has seen it since antiquity,” said INRAP president Dominique Garcia.

Colonna said the team was also “very happy” to have found a skeleton with a coin in its mouth, allowing them to date the burial to the 2nd century AD. The excavation, which began in March, has uncovered 50 graves, all of which were used for burial — not cremation, which was also common at the time.

Ferryman of Hades

The remains of the 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.

The skeletons were buried in wooden coffins, which were now only identifiable by their nails.  More than half were buried alongside offerings such as ceramic jugs and goblets.

Sometimes a coin was placed in the coffin, or even in the mouth of the dead, a common practice at the time called Charon’s obol.

In Greek mythology, Charon is the ferryman of Hades, and the coin was considered a bribe to carry the souls of the dead across the river Styx. The archaeologists also found shoes inside the graves, identifying them by the small nails that would be been in the soles.

Colonna said the shoes were placed “either at the feet of the dead or next to them, like an offering”.

Jewellery, hairpins, and belts were also discovered.

The entire skeleton of a pig and another small animal was discovered in a pit where animals were thought to have been sacrificed to the gods. Unlike the excavation in the 1800s, this time the team plans to remove everything from the necropolis for analysis.

“This will allow us to understand the life of the Parisii through their funeral rites, as well as their health by studying their DNA,” Colonna said.

Garcia said that the ancient history of Paris was “generally not well known”.

The unearthed graves open “a window into the world of Paris during antiquity,” he added.

The naked Venus statue was discovered in a Roman garbage dump in France

The naked Venus statue was discovered in a Roman garbage dump in France

The naked Venus statue was discovered in a Roman garbage dump in France

Archaeologists from the French National Institute for Preventative Archaeological Research (Inrap) has been uncovered a trove of artifacts, including two statues of the goddess Venus, in a Roman-era quarry-turned-trash-dump in the city of Rennes, France.

Artifacts dating back to 1800 years included statues of Venus, as well as a pottery kiln, clothes pins, and coins.

Archaeologists reported earlier this month that they had discovered a quarry that was probably important in constructing Roman Rennes while excavating before a development project.

The founding of the city of Rennes dates back to 100 A.D. Back then, it was still the Condate Riedonum, which was a Roman town.

The foundations for several of Condate’s walls and streets were constructed using tiny slabs of Brioverian schist that were extracted during the first and second centuries of our era.

 The excavation of such a set can teach archaeologists more about the management and organization of the quarry, as well as the gestures of the quarry workers (tools used, extraction techniques), the evolution of the working face over time, and the development of the quarry in successive levels.

Large atypical vase from the Gallo-Roman period in ceramic, with drippings of pitch.

During the quarry excavation, a piece of the mother-goddess Venus genetrix, depicted with her chest covered in fabric, was found.

The statuette dates from between the 1st to 2nd century AD and depicts a 10cm tall naked Venus made from terracotta. She is shown holding her hair which is held in place by an imposing headdress.

 The second and more thorough example is Venus Anadyomene, who emerged from the sea. She is naked and is wringing the water from her hair with her right hand.

Venus is a Roman goddess associated with love, beauty, desire, sex, fertility, prosperity, and victory.

According to Roman mythology, she was an ancestor of the Roman people through her son, Aeneas, who survived the fall of Troy and fled to Italy.

Excavations of the accumulated layers of Roman rubbish has revealed a multitude of finds, including fragments of ceramic tableware, several terracotta statuettes of deities, coins and items of adornment (fibulas).

Innovative Construction Technique Spotted in Notre Dame

Innovative Construction Technique Spotted in Notre Dame

Notre Dame Cathedral before it underwent a massive reconstruction due to a fire.

In 2019, a fire broke out inside Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, severely damaging the iconic medieval building. However, the catastrophic fire gave researchers an opportunity to study the building’s architecture like never before.

A few months after the inferno was extinguished, researchers discovered that the stones used to build the Gothic-style cathedral were held together using iron staples, a technique that had never been documented before in a building from this time period, according to a study published March 15 in the journal PLOS One.

Notre Dame was constructed in multiple phases starting in the early 12th century and continuing for the next 300 years, according to the Notre Dame Cathedral website.

“This is the first building of its kind in which we see this,” lead author Maxime L’Héritier, a professor in the Department of History at Paris 8 University, told Live Science. “This shows [that the builders] at the time were trying to experiment with new forms of construction.”

L’Héritier and his team analyzed 12 of the iron staples, which measure approximately 20 inches (50 centimeters) long and were part of the “iron skeleton” holding the building together, L’Héritier wrote in an essay for the archaeology publication Sapiens.

The staples offered additional reinforcements to the cathedral’s stonework, including holding together the large arches in the nave of the building’s towering 226-foot-tall (69 meters) twin towers.

Without the staples’ support, this architectural feat would likely have been impossible to accomplish in 1160, when construction of the building began, according to the study.

“When we studied other Gothic churches of that time period, none used iron in their construction,” L’Héritier said. “We believe that the staples were what enabled them to build this structure at such a terrific height.”

Researchers radiocarbon dated the iron staples and discovered that they were used during one of the initial construction phases, “confirming that the production date of the staples was the same as the masonry, which also dated to around 1160,” L’Héritier said.

However, L’Héritier cautioned that it will take further analysis to know the iron’s exact origins.

“We’re trying to figure out if it’s local or more distant,” L’Héritier said. “There also seems to be different ore sources depending on whether the construction occurred in the 12th or 13th centuries. We do know that the [cathedral’s] bishop died at the end of the 12th century, so it’s possible that a new ore resource was used years later. We should know more in a year or two.”

In the four years following the blaze, Notre Dame has been undergoing reconstruction and is expected to reopen to visitors in December 2024, according to AP News.

Monumental Roman complex discovered in France

Monumental Roman complex discovered in France

In the city of Reims in northeastern France, archaeologists have discovered an ancient Roman-era monumental complex dating from the 2nd – 3rd century AD.

The structure consists of two porticoed galleries 65 ft lengthy forming the arms of a U. Greater than 20 rooms occupy the galleries, from corridors to residing areas with chalk flooring and fireplaces. 9 of the rooms had been a part of the traditional baths. 5 of them had a hypocaust underfloor heating system; lots of the pilae stacks (sq. tile piles) that supported the ground are nonetheless in place and in glorious situation.

Within the empty house between the galleries are two rectangular masonry buildings that had been possible a part of backyard. One of many two was a basin or fountain. Two pressurized water pipes had been discovered that stuffed the basin and/or fed the water function.

In the centre, foundation of an ancient basin surrounded by remains of its porticoed gallery, discovered in Reims (Marne), in 2023. An ancient monumental site from the 2nd-3rd centuries was discovered there.

Archaeologists discovered painted plasters adorned with floral motifs. Some of the pigments used, such as a blue similar to “Egyptian blue,” are extremely rare.

This discovery typifies a very simple set. The large number of rooms, their organization, the wealth of the decorations, the two large galleries, the hydraulic network, and the archaeological elements discovered (ceramics, architectural blocks, copper alloy tableware, and so on) allow for two interpretations. These relics could be the domus (house) of a wealthy individual or a spa complex, possibly open to the public, given the monumentality.

The Porte de Mars, the largest remaining Roman triumphal arch from the third century A.D., is just 100 meters (328 feet) away from the monumental complex. One of four imposing gates in the city walls, the arch was named after a nearby Temple of Mars.

Pilettes of the first hypocaust (underfloor heating system) discovered in Reims (Marne), in 2023.

In the third century, this was a very prestigious location, but by the beginning of the fourth, the area had all but been abandoned, and its buildings had been quarried for recycled construction materials.

The construction of Reims’ 4th-century walls may have caused the shift. For the next 1400 years, the neighborhood was used for agriculture before becoming a populated area at the end of the 18th century.

Evidence of Europe’s first Homo sapiens was found in a French cave

Evidence of Europe’s first Homo sapiens was found in a French cave

Stone artefacts and tooth pre-date the earliest known evidence of the species in Europe by more than 10,000 years.

Evidence of Europe’s first Homo sapiens was found in a French cave
Excavations at the Grotte Mandrin rock shelter uncovered stone tools, animal bones and hominin teeth.

Archaeologists have found evidence that Europe’s first Homo sapiens lived briefly in a rock shelter in southern France — before mysteriously vanishing.

A study published on 9 February in Science Advances1 argues that distinctive stone tools and a lone child’s tooth were left by Homo sapiens during a short stay, some 54,000 years ago — and not by Neanderthals, who lived in the rock shelter for thousands of years before and after that time.

The Homo sapiens occupation, which researchers estimate lasted for just a few decades, pre-dates the previous earliest known evidence of the species in Europe by around 10,000 years.

But some researchers are not so sure that the stone tools or teeth were left by Homo sapiens. “I find the evidence less than convincing,” says William Banks, a paleolithic archaeologist at the French national research agency CNRS and the University of Bordeaux.

Tools, bones, and teeth

A team co-led by Ludovic Slimak, a cultural anthropologist at CNRS and the University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès, has spent the past three decades excavating the Grotte Mandrin rock shelter in the Rhône Valley.

The researchers have uncovered tens of thousands of stone tools and animal bones, as well as 9 hominin teeth, all dating from around 70,000 to 40,000 years ago.

Most of the stone tools resemble artifacts categorized as ‘Mousterian technology’ that are found at Neanderthal sites across Eurasia, says Slimak. But one of the shelter’s archaeological levels — known as layer E and dated to between 56,800 and 51,700 years ago — contains tools such as sharpened points and small blades that are more typical of early Homo sapiens technology. Slimak says the layer E stone tools resemble those found at much younger sites in southern France, left by makers unknown, as well as those from similarly aged sites in the Middle East that are linked to Homo sapiens.

These sharpened stones — which might have been the tips of spears or other tools — have been linked to Homo sapiens

An analysis led by Clément Zanolli, a palaeoanthropologist at the University of Bordeaux who, found that the only hominin tooth in layer E, a molar probably from a child, is similar in shape to those of Homo sapiens who lived in Eurasia during the last Ice Age. Other teeth found in Grotte Mandrin resemble those of Neanderthals.

The researchers have not attempted to extract DNA from the layer E tooth to confirm whether it belongs to Homo sapiens or a Neanderthal.

Slimak says that in an unpublished analysis, other researchers have found Neanderthal DNA in sediments older than layer E, as well as in a tooth from Grotte Mandrin’s younger layers.

But the team was unable to extract much well-preserved DNA from horse teeth found in the rock shelter, including layer E. So they have decided to hold off on the destructive process of taking samples from the layer E hominin tooth until they have access to technology that will give them a good chance of getting genetic material out intact. “This tooth is very precious. There’s some chance there’s preserved DNA in it,” Slimak says.

If Homo sapiens left the tools and tooth in layer E, they weren’t in Grotte Mandrin for long. Slimak estimates that the residency lasted for around 40 years, on the basis of an analysis of fragments of the shelter’s ceiling that had broken off and been deposited alongside other archaeological material.

New layers of the white mineral calcite accrued on the ceiling twice each year, during wet periods, and soot from fires in the shelter left black marks, creating a sort of ‘barcode’ that can pinpoint hominin occupations to within a year. The researchers concluded that the last Homo sapiens fire went out no more than a year before the next Neanderthal one. “The populations must have in some way met each other,” Slimak adds. Yet the researchers found no obvious signs of cultural exchanges, such as similarities in stone tools, between the two groups.

Early settlers

If layer E was occupied by Homo sapiens, however fleetingly, it would put the species in Europe thousands of years earlier than other records suggest. The region’s oldest definitive Homo sapiens remains — confirmed with DNA — come from Bacho Kiro cave in Bulgaria, and are around 44,000 years old2.

“It is exciting to see that Homo sapiens was in western Europe several thousand years earlier than previously thought,” says Marie Soressi, an archaeologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands. “It shows that the peopling of Europe by Homo sapiens was likely a long and hazardous process.”

But Banks is not yet convinced that Grotte Mandrin was once home to Europe’s earliest known Homo sapiens. He says that the layer E tools are more likely to be local inventions than imports from people in the Middle East.

There can also be substantial overlap in the shapes of the teeth of Homo sapiens and Neanderthals. “It is not a stretch to think that a single Neanderthal tooth could have dental characteristics that resemble moderns,” he says.

Have France’s First Arrows Been Found?

Have France’s First Arrows Been Found?

Have France’s First Arrows Been Found?
The researchers made replicas of the stone points using local flint, and incorporated them into spears and arrows.

A 54,000-year-old cave site in southern France holds hundreds of tiny stone points, which researchers say closely resemble other known arrowheads — including replicas that they tested on dead goats.

The discovery, reported on 22 February in Science Advances1, suggests that the first Homo sapiens to reach Europe hunted with bows and arrows. But it also raises the question of why Neanderthals — which occupied the Grotte Mandrin rock shelter in the Rhône Valley before and after Homo sapiens — never adopted these superior weapons.

Last year, researchers excavating Grotte Mandrin claimed that the site held the earliest known evidence of Homo sapiens in Europe2. In one of the cave’s archaeological levels, known as layer E, researchers co-led by cultural anthropologist Ludovic Slimak at the University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès in France identified a child’s tooth and thousands of stone tools. They concluded that the child had been a Homo sapiens.

Among the tools were hundreds of tiny points, many of which were as small as 1 centimetre wide, weighed only a few grams and were nearly identical in shape and size.

The smallest points were similar to other arrowheads made by ancient and modern humans, and some contained similar fractures and other damage at their tips, which could have been created by high-velocity impact.

Spears and arrows

The researchers made dozens of replica points from flint found near the rock shelter, and fashioned them into bows and arrows using wood and other materials. They also made thrusting spears and spear-thrower darts. They used the weapons to stab or shoot at dead goats.

Some of the larger points could have been used effectively with spears or darts. But only a bow and arrow could have generated the force needed to wound or kill an animal with the smallest points, says Laure Metz, an archaeologist at Aix-Marseille University in France who co-led the latest study with Slimak. “It’s not possible to use these tiny points with something other than a bow and arrow.”

Some archaeologists think the Grotte Mandrin shelter contains the earliest known evidence for Homo sapiens in Europe.

Grotte Mandrin contains many horse bones, and Metz suspects that humans sheltering in the cave hunted these animals as well as bison migrating through the Rhône Valley.

The team has found a horse femur with damage consistent with a stone point, and Metz dreams of finding an arrow point embedded in an animal bone.

“This is as solid as it gets,” says John Shea, an archaeologist at Stony Brook University in New York. “They’ve made a more convincing case that these things are arrows, than cases have been made for arrows in data from the last 12,000 years.”

Neanderthal puzzle

Above and below Grotte Mandrin’s layer E, researchers have found Neanderthal teeth and DNA, along with stone tools characteristic of the extinct group.

Slimak’s team contends that layer E represents an early but short-lived incursion of Homo sapiens into Neanderthal territory, more than 10,000 years before the species permanently settled in Europe. Not all archaeologists agree.

If Homo sapiens did make the stone points in layer E, it’s not clear why Neanderthals in the region and elsewhere did not pick up bow-and-arrow technology, as far as anyone can tell. Some researchers have speculated that Neanderthals lacked the cognitive capacity to use projectiles, a difference that might have helped humans to out-compete Neanderthals for scarce game.

But Metz doubts that that is the reason. She wonders whether cultural traditions explain why Neanderthals seem never to have used bows and arrows.

Marie Soressi, an archaeologist at the University of Leiden, the Netherlands, agrees that the Neanderthals living at Grotte Mandrin didn’t leave arrow points behind. But she wonders whether evidence for bow and arrow use might be found elsewhere. “I would find it very strange if Neanderthals were so conservative that they would not copy mechanically propelled weapons used by other humans.”

High-Tech Scans Reveal 17th-Century Dental Work

High-Tech Scans Reveal 17th-Century Dental Work

Scientists have discovered the long-buried secret of a 17th-century French aristocrat 400 years after her death: she was using gold wire to keep her teeth from falling out.

The body of Anne d’Alegre, who died in 1619, was discovered during an archaeological excavation at the Chateau de Laval in northwestern France in 1988.

Embalmed in a lead coffin, her skeleton — and teeth — were remarkably well-preserved.

At the time the archaeologists noticed that she had a dental prosthetic, but they did not have advanced scanning tools to find out more.

Thirty-five years later, a team of archaeologists and dentists have identified that d’Alegre suffered from periodontal disease that was loosening her teeth, according to a study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports this week.

“Beyond the only therapeutic care and far from the only coquetry, this study shows also the importance of the appearance for aristocratic women submitted to strong social constraints (like stress or widowhood),” the study’s authors wrote. 

A “Cone Beam” scan, which uses X-rays to build three-dimensional images, showed that gold wire had been used to hold together and tighten several of her teeth.

She also had an artificial tooth made of ivory from an elephant — not hippopotamus, which was popular at the time.

The scientists said their paper “provides the first demonstration of a link between a diagnosis and a therapy on an identified individual using new digital technologies used in modern dentistry.”

But the ornate dental work only “made the situation worse,” said Rozenn Colleter, an archaeologist at the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research and lead author of the study.

The gold wires would have needed repeated tightening over the years, further destabilizing the neighboring teeth, the researchers said.

D’Alegre likely went through the pain for more than just medical reasons. There was huge pressure on aristocratic women at a time when appearance was seen as related to value and rank in society.

Ambroise Pare, a contemporary of d’Alegre’s who was the doctor for several French kings and designed similar dental prosthetics, claimed that “if a patient is toothless, his speech becomes depraved,” Colleter told AFP.

A nice smile was particularly important for d’Alegre, a “controversial” twice-widowed socialite “who did not have a good reputation,” Colleter added.

D’Alegre lived through a troubled time in French history.

She was a Huguenot, Protestants who fought against Catholics in the French Wars of Religion in the late 1500s. By the age of 21, she was already widowed once and had a young son, Guy XX de Laval.

When the country plunged into the Eighth War of Religion, d’Alegre and her son were forced to hide from Catholic forces while their property was seized by the king.

Her son then converted to Catholicism and went to fight in Hungary, dying in battle at the age of 20. After being widowed a second time, d’Alegre died of an illness aged 54.

D’Alegre’s teeth “shows that she went through a lot of stress,” Colleter said.

The researcher said she hopes that the research “goes a little way towards rehabilitating her.”

Severe periodontal diseases are estimated to affect nearly a fifth of the world’s adults, according to the World Health Organization.

Ancient Necropolis of 40 Tombs With Humans Buried in Pots Discovered in Corsica

Ancient Necropolis of 40 Tombs With Humans Buried in Pots Discovered in Corsica

An ancient necropolis with 40 tombs, including cylindrical jars filled with human remains, has been discovered on the French island of Corsica. The people buried in the cemetery range from infants to adults, the archaeologists said.

Located in the town of Île-Rousse on the island’s northern coast, the cemetery seems to have been used between the third and fifth centuries CE, a time in which the Roman Empire was gradually declining.

Many of the people were found buried inside amphoras, large vessels that would normally be used to carry goods such as olive oil, wine or pickles.

The design of the amphoras indicates that they are from North Africa, with some possibly being manufactured in Carthage.

Even so, the people buried in the necropolis, including those inside the amphoras, likely lived near the necropolis in Corsica, said Jean-Jacques Grizeaud, an archaeologist at the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) who led excavations at the site.

At the time, a lot of trade was happening across the Mediterranean, Grizeaud added.

Archaeologists also found that some of the burials were covered with terra-cotta tiles that the Romans called “tegulae” and “imbrices”. The Romans often used such tiles to cover the roofs of buildings and, at times, to cover burials.

The necropolis is located at the foot of the Immaculate Conception church constructed in 1893, the researchers said.

The head of one of the people buried.

Other burials found on the island, such as those at the sites of Mariana and Sant’Amanza, have been linked to buildings of worship, the researchers noted.

More research needs to be done to determine what ancient towns or cities were located near this necropolis.

“There is no real mention of a city in the ancient texts or, for example, in the map of [Corsica] made by Ptolemy,” a geographer who lived in the second century CE, Grizeaud said.

Over the next few months, archaeologists will conduct lab work to determine the people’s sexes, their exact ages and any illnesses or injuries they may have had, Grizeaud said.