Category Archives: FRANCE

Ancient Necropolis With Lead Coffins Sheds Light On Early Christian Funeral Practices

Ancient Necropolis With Lead Coffins Sheds Light On Early Christian Funeral Practices

Excavation is currently being carried out by a team of Inrap archeologists in Autun – the Ancient Augustodunum – in collaboration with the Archaeological Service of the city of Autun.

The excavation concerns a necropolis located near the early Christian church of Saint-Pierre-l’Estrier.

In use from the middle of the 3rd century to the 5th century, this necropolis was remembered for a long time because several mausoleums were still visible in the 18th century.

Some of these imposing funerary monuments contained marble sarcophagi. One of them would have sheltered the remains of Amator, sometimes cited as the first bishop of Autun.

One of the first mausoleums, the founding tomb of St Peter’s Church, was built on a Gallo-Roman villa and is said to have housed the remains of a locally revered personality.

Church of Saint-Pierre-l’Estrier, classified as a historical monument

The necropolis housed some of the oldest Christian burials in the northern half of Gaul.

The inscription of Pektorios, dating from the 4th century, which contains one of the first references to Christ in Gaul, was found here.

View of two graves
Burial in a mound. The tiles form a roof covering the grave

The dig has revealed nearly 150 burials to date. Some individuals are buried in sandstone sarcophagi while others are placed in coffins.

The coffins are usually made of wood or lead. Some of the deceased are buried in tile caskets that recall the funerary practices of the late Roman Empire. Few objects are associated with the deceased in the burials, a fact consistent with late Antiquity funerary practices.

Archaeologists have also found traces of six mausoleums and a wooden building.

Lead coffin, containing the skull and bones preserved

Lead coffins are rare in the northern half of France. Autun is one of the most important deposits, with about forty known specimens, including eight from the current excavation.

They are generally anepigraphic and without decoration. However, some of them bear cruciform signs that are difficult to interpret.

Photogrammetric reconstruction of the site

Placed in a stone sarcophagus, one of them seems to have been airtight for more than 1500 years. Its opening is planned at the end of the excavation and could reveal a well-preserved individual, perhaps with his clothes and other rare or ephemeral elements accompanying him into the afterlife.

Up to 500 guillotine victims found in walls of French monument

Up to 500 guillotine victims found in walls of French monument

The bodies of nearly 500 people, including Maximilien Robespierre, an architect of the reign of terror, guillotined during the French Revolution have been believed to have buried in Paris ‘ catacombs.

Yet recent research indicates that these individuals may have been laid to rest elsewhere: namely, in the walls of Chapelle Expiatoire, a 19th-century chapel in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, reports Eric Le Mitouard for Le Parisien.

Many of the deceased were aristocrats publicly beheaded between 1793 and 1794 in the Place de la Révolution, a huge public square now known as the Place de la Concorde.

Madame du Barry, mistress of Louis XV, and Olympe de Gouges, an influential early feminist writer and social reformer, are among those thought to be interred at the mass burial site.

In 2018, Chapelle Expiatoire’s administrator, Aymeric Peniguet de Stoutz, noticed that the walls in the lower chapel’s columns were strangely uneven, as though there were extra spaces between them.

When archaeologist Philippe Charlier investigated the discrepancy by inserting a tiny camera through the stones in the walls, he discovered four large chests containing bones, reports Kim Willsher for the Guardian.

More than 500 people guillotined during the French Revolution may have been buried in the walls of this 19th-century chapel.

Further research on the findings was delayed, in part due to the Yellow Vest protests that erupted in Paris that year. Now, however, Peniguet de Stoutz tells Le Parisien that he has asked the regional directorate of cultural affairs to conduct excavations at the site beginning in 2021.

“I cried when the forensic pathologist assured me he had seen human phalange [feet and hand] bones in the photographs,” the administrator says, per a translation by the Guardian.

Louis XVIII built the Chapelle Expiatoire on the site of the Madeleine Cemetery where his brother Louis XVI and sister-in-law Marie Antoinette were once buried.

In his report, Charlier noted that the lower chapel contained four wooden ossuaries, or containers used to hold human remains.

“There is earth mixed with fragments of bones,” he wrote, as quoted by the Guardian.

Chapelle Expiatoire is located around a ten-minute walk from the Place de la Révolution. It was constructed on top of the former Madeleine Cemetery, which served as one of four officially designated burial sites for guillotine victims through 1794.

When Louis XVIII became king in 1814, he ordered the remains of his brother Louis XVI and sister-in-law Marie Antoinette removed from the Madeleine Cemetery and interred in the Saint-Denis Basilica, according to David Chazan of the Telegraph.

The French monarch commissioned the Chapelle Expiatoire’s construction atop of the burial site in memory of the couple.

Previously, historians thought that the remains of other notable victims of the French Revolution were moved from the Madeleine Cemetery to another site and, finally, to the catacombs of Paris, where a plaque commemorates their burial. If confirmed, the newly detailed discovery would refute that narrative.

Peniguet de Stoutz cites evidence that Louis XVIII did not want the aristocrats’ bodies to be moved out of the building. In a letter, the king reportedly ordered that “no earth saturated with victims [of the revolution] be moved from the place for the building of the work.”

Speaking with Le Parisien, the chapel administrator says, “Until now, the chapel was thought to be solely a monument in memory of the royal family. But we’ve just discovered that it is also a necropolis of the revolution.”

Shackled skeletons found in an ancient Roman burial ground in France

Shackled skeletons found in an ancient Roman burial ground in France

Hundreds of Roman graves have been found by archaeologists, some of which contain skeletons still bound by shackles on their necks and ankles.

A wider photo shows the same skeleton – thought to be a man – with a shackle on his ankle as well as his neck

A building site about 250 m west of the amphitheater of Saintes once used for fighting between gladiators and the wild animals is an incredible excavation.

Among the hundreds of graves found, five skeletons – four adults and one child – were found shackled or chained.

Dating back to the first and second centuries AD, the gravesite is thought to have been an important necropolis used for those massacred at the nearby stadium.

Construction on the Saintes amphitheater began during the reign of Emperor Tiberius (A.D. 14-37) and was completed under Claudius (A.D. 41-54). In its finished state, the arena could hold around 18,000 people. Today, it is the largest remaining amphitheater in France, as well as the oldest.

Archaeologists began digging at the site of the necropolis—located 250 meters west of the Saintes amphitheater—last year. It was typical for Roman necropolises, used for burials and cremations, to be located in the countryside, outside major towns and cities.

The Saintes burial ground contains hundreds of graves, which archaeologists have dated to the first and second centuries A.D. Experts believe the necropolis may have been used for those who died at the nearby stadium, during the gladiatorial combats that were common during Roman times.

Among the hundreds of sets of human remains at Saintes, the scientists uncovered a particularly unsettling find: five skeletons wearing riveted iron shackles of various types, suggesting that the deceased might have been slaves.

Even more disturbingly, one of the skeletons belonged to a child. Three of the adults had their ankles bound by iron chains, while the fourth was shackled at the neck and the child had a chain attached to his or her wrist.

This group of four people was buried head-to-toe in a small, trench-style grave

Archaeologists previously discovered shackled skeletons in the 2005 excavation of a cemetery in York, England, which also dated back to the days of the Roman occupation.

Researchers at the time proposed that the remains belonged to slaves, who were often forced to fight each other to the death in Roman gladiatorial contests. (Some of these gruesome battles pitted an armed man or woman against another combatant who was unarmed.) In the case of the York cemetery, some of the shackled bodies were found with bite marks, suggesting wild animals might have killed the victims in the gladiatorial arena.

The archaeologists now hope to determine a cause of death for the individuals found buried in the Saintes necropolis, as well as their status during their lifetime, and whether all those buried there were members of the same community.

Many of the skeletons were buried in pairs, laid out side by side with their heads and toes touching in rectangular pits that resembled trenches.

While some ancient Romans were buried with their possessions, the graves at Saintes contain almost no artifacts, except for several vases recovered beside the body of one man.

One skeleton—belonging to a child—was found with coins placed over the eyes, a common practice in Roman times.

Romans believed a river separated the world of the living from that of the death, and that the coins enabled the dead person’s spirit to pay the ferryman for safe passage across that river to the afterlife.

Very strange Gallo roman horse and human burials at  Evreux (Eure) France. 

Very strange Gallo roman horse and human burials at  Evreux (Eure) France. 

A team from the Institut National d’archéologie preventive (Inrap) has discovered a mortuary practice hitherto unknown in Roman Gaul.

The archaeologists are working in an area of 200m2 intended for the construction of a private house at Evreux (Eure).

The earliest traces of human occupation of the town of Evreux seem to date from the third quarter of the 1st century BC. Its Roman name was Mediolanum Aulercorum, and it was the main town of the Aulerci Eburovices.

It became important during the Augustan period and in the 1st century of our era, it was equipped with a theatre, baths, and villas with painted walls, etc.

The antique cemetery is on a hill-side, outside the town, thus respecting the Law of the Twelve Tables then in force, along the road linking Evreux and Chartres.

Already known during the 19th century because of some accidental discoveries, the site seems to have been used from the 1st–4th century AD. Evaluations and excavations carried out from 2002 onwards have clarified the typo-chronological evolution of the necropolis.

During the 1st century, secondary cremation graves were predominant, even though some perinatal and adult inhumations have been found. From the second century AD onwards burial became the exclusive funerary practice. 

Such Unusual Burials

Up to now, about forty inhumation graves have been excavated. Two of them can be dated from the 3rd century by association with a ceramic vase characteristic of this period.

Other subjects have been radiocarbon dated (14 C). This part of the cemetery contains mainly adults, new-born babies and a few children under 10 years of age.

The graves are very concentrated, and for the most part, are grouped together without any spatial organisation. The deceased were buried with their heads towards the North, the South, the East or the West. 

Many adults were buried in an unusual position: several of them face downwards, one of them with an upper member twisted (right elbow placed behind the left shoulder), another buried with his lower members very bent, etc. 

Men & Horses

The second exceptional element is the fact that large pieces of horses were placed in most of the graves. Most of the time they were skulls or parts of vertebrae.

However, one grave contained three horses, almost complete, buried simultaneously, one above the other. The most unusual deposit is that of an adult whose head is clasped by two horse skulls.

Skull of an adult surrounded by two horse skulls placed head to tail (probably 3rd century AD).

The horse bones were placed in direct contact with the deceased, or in the pit fills. 

Was it the result of war, of an epidemic, or were they food offerings? These three hypotheses should be discarded: there is no trace of violence on the bones, they were not multiple graves linked with a catastrophe, and lastly, horsemeat wasn’t eaten in Roman times. 

This deliberate act – the placing of sections of horses in Gallo-Roman graves – seems to be unique in France.

Should one envisage the presence of a distinct people, through its origin, its religion, or its craft? Was it a survival of the worship of the Gallic goddess Epona?

The continuation of the excavation and subsequent research may provide some answers. 

A high density of mutually overlapping burials (probably 3rd century AD). We can see on the left three horses deposited simultaneously.
The high density of mutually overlapping burials (probably 3rd century AD). We can see on the left three horses deposited simultaneously.

France digs up bones from 6,000-year-old ‘massacre’

France digs up bones from 6,000-year-old ‘massacre’

A shattered skull discovered among fractured and fossilized skeletons at the site of an archaeological dig in Alsace, north-eastern France.

Archaeologists had discovered the remains of victims from a 6,000-year-old massacre in Alsace in eastern France that was likely carried out by “furious ritualized warriors”.

The bones of the 6,000- year-old genocide in Alsace, in north-eastern France have been found by archeologists.

According to a team from the National Institute for Preventive Archeological Research (Inrap), the bodies of 10 people have been found in one of 300 ancient silos, used to store grain and other food.

The Neolithic group appeared to have had violent deaths, with multiple injuries to their legs, hands and skulls.

The way in which the bodies were piled on top of each other suggested they had been killed together and dumped in the silo.

The fossilised skeletons of two men with numerous fractured bones.

“They were very brutally executed and received violent blows, almost certainly from a stone axe,” said Philippe Lefranc, an Infrap specialist on the period.

The skeletons of five adults and an adolescent were found as well as four arms from different individuals.

The arms were probably war trophies, like those found at a nearby burial site of Bergheim in 2012, said Lefranc.

The mutilations indicated a society of “furious, ritualised warriors”, he said, while the silos were stored within a defence wall that pointed towards “a troubled time, a period of insecurity”.

Researchers examine human remains at the massacre site.

It is hoped genetic testing on the bones will reveal more information about the killings, but Lefranc said one theory was that a local tribe had clashed with a group arriving from the area around modern-day Paris.

“It appears that a warrior raid by people from the Parisian basin went wrong for the assailants, and the Alsatians of the era massacred them,” he said.

However, in the long run, it was the “Parisians” who had the last laugh.

The local tribe appears to have been supplanted by the newcomers at about 4,200 BC, as demonstrated by new funeral rites, pottery, and hamlets.

Archaeology breakthrough: 2,000-year-old ‘mini Pompeii’ discovered in France

Archaeology breakthrough: 2,000-year-old ‘mini Pompeii’ discovered in France

This find took place in the district of Sainte-Colombe, southern Lyon, and was dubbed a Mini Pompei by its similarity to the Roman town buried in Naples after the Vesuvius eruption in 79 A.D.

Archaeologists have discovered vestiges of armor worn by what they believed to be a retired Roman officer, as well as beautiful mosaics and pottery frozen in time.

Like the famous Pompeii, experts believe that the city was buried under ash and debris after a huge disaster, but it did not follow a volcanic eruption.

The site’s main archaeologist, Benjamin Clement, told PBS in 2017: “So we’ve just discovered the pieces of huge armor from the first century.

“Here we have a small part of the belt and this type of decoration comes from the belt on the front of the armor.

Archaeologists uncovered a mini Pompeii
The discovery was made near Lyon

“We have all the parts of the armor, all the little parts that come out of it.

“Only 10 minutes ago we found a little sword, I’ll show it to you.”

“If you come and look, we also have all the protection for the shoulders. “

Clement explained how the findings provide insight into life over two millennia ago. He added, “Mosaics are really interesting because they are part of art, like a statue.

“But for the understanding of the lifestyle of the Roman people, most of them were from the middle and lower classes.

Ancient pottery shows how the Roman Empire was cooking and eating

The French Minister of Culture, Marie-Agnès Gaidon Bunel, added: “There has been an increase in clandestine treasure hunting in France in recent years, with objects recovered from archaeological sites, which we are not at all happy.

“The Minister of Culture is trying to combat this practice because the removal of these objects from their archaeological framework prevents us from dating the site and they are actively marketed outside of France.”

Some have called the discovery the most important of the past 50 years, as it helps to rebuild the stronghold of the Roman Empire over France.

Unlike Pompeii, tourists will not be able to get a first-hand look at the site, as it has now been reconstructed, with an apartment complex and parking.

A Roman “laguncula” (water bottle) of the 4th century AD discovered in France

A Roman “laguncula” (water bottle) of the 4th century AD discovered in France

Archaeologist Carlo Di Clemente: Exceptional state of conservation, there are only very few other specimens found from excavations

A Roman "laguncula" (water bottle) of the 4th century AD discovered in France
Photo of the French Inrap Institute

The military bottle in the modern sense dates back to the second half of the 19th century, yet the Romans had already invented it.

One of these has just been found, in extraordinary conservation conditions, in the town of Seynod, in south-eastern France.

The architects of the discovery were the archaeologists of the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap).

A shopping center, or something similar, should be built on the site, but since the first investigations, evidence of a sacred Roman site with two or three small temples emerged, of which only the stone foundations remain.

In two of these, the cell floor (the closed space of the temple) and the vestibule can be clearly identified and referred to in the first half of the 4th century.

However, the site had to be older: the discovery of pottery from the end of the 1st century. they date the first construction of the sanctuary to that time.

In addition to the temples, 42 tombs with very different dimensions have emerged: the largest is more than two meters wide, the smallest only a meter and a half. Inside some of these coins, ceramics and figurines have been found. Among the various votive objects, a metal “laguncula” of the 4th century has sprung up. AD that belonged almost certainly to a legionnaire.

This is an exceptional find for the state of conservation – explains the archaeologist Carlo Di Clemente – there are only very few other specimens found from excavations. 

The “laguncula” was the container flask, usually made of copper, bronze or other alloys, which each legionnaire brought with him to preserve his daily ration of cereals, which he would then consume together with the companions of his “contubernium”, the smallest unit of the Roman army (8 soldiers). The food supply of the Roman army was extremely efficient: a legion (about 5000 men) needed around 1.2 tons of cereals per day.

The container, with a very graceful shape, is composed of two iron disks joined by bronze plates with a lobed outline like that of an oak leaf. Both the hinged handle and the cap are made of bronze, once connected to the flask by a metal cable, also in copper alloy, of which a fragment remains. Both the cap and the base are decorated with concentric circles. 

The interior was coated with wax or pitch to waterproof the container and, not surprisingly, traces of this material have been identified.

Even more interesting is how the remains of the organic content of the bottle have been preserved. According to the first analyzes, they are millet seeds (Panicum miliaceum, cereal widely consumed by the Romans) blackberries, with traces of dairy products. Perhaps he had also transported olives, given the presence of oleanoleic acid.

The laguncula was therefore also a kind of apprenticeship since it could contain solid foods. In fact, for the water, the legionaries had a specific skin bottle.

Explains military historian and experimental archaeologist Flavio Russo: This was a flask made of goatskin and had the advantage of not breaking with falls or bumps.

The external coat, if wet, allowed to refresh the content due to the subtraction of heat produced by evaporation. Its use even reached the Great War where it was called “ghirba”. By extension, “saving the stuff” began to mean, in military jargon, saving one’s life. The skin bottle also performed a very useful function: if filled with air, it constituted a real lifesaver that allowed the legionnaire to wade the waterways. skins, if used in bulk,

Returning to the laguncula, it is surprising how on the market of accessories for historical re-enactment this bottle has been present for some time now, reproduced with characteristics quite similar to the ancient one found. This allows us to appreciate how “new” it should have been. 

It was certainly an object of a certain value, like all the metal ones, at the time, which the legionary had to particularly care about. 

Perhaps this is precisely why she was left in one of the tombs. Maybe, the extreme homage of a fellow soldier, a friend, a brother? It is not just an archaeological find: the rust and verdigris that cover the laguncula evoke a story of pain and affection that we will never know.

This is the oldest known string. It was made by a Neandertal

This is the oldest known string. It was made by a Neandertal

In a rock shelter in France, What may be the world’s oldest piece of string, made by Neanderthal humans from bark about 50,000 years ago has been found

Just over two-tenths of an inch long, It’s a tiny fragment — but its discoverers say it shows Neanderthals had extensive knowledge of the trees it was made from, and enough practical ability to make a string that would hold fast under tension.

This research was first reported in the live science reports on Thursday. It is the first time that a string or rope was identified to the Neanderthals – which indicates that they have been using other ancient technologies that have since rotted away, from basketry to clothing to fishing gear.

It also suggests that Neanderthals – the archetypal crude cavemen – were smarter than some people give them credit for.

“This is just another piece of the puzzle that shows they really weren’t very different from us,” said palaeoanthropologist Bruce Hardy of Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, who was part of the team that discovered the string.

A scanning electron microscope photo shows a closeup view of fibers that were twisted into a string by Neandertals as early as 52,000 years ago. The ancient string fragment is about 6.2 millimeters long.

Hardy spotted the string fragment attached to a small stone tool found at the Abri du Maras rock shelter in southeastern France, which was occupied by Neanderthals – Homo sapiens neanderthalensis – until about 40,000 years ago.

Before this, what’s thought to be the oldest string was found in Israel, and made by early modern humans – Homo sapiens– about 19,000 years ago. The tool from France was a sharp-edged flint used for cutting, and the string could have tied it to a handle, Hardy said.

Only the fragment of the string was left – but enough to be looked at with an electron microscope: “This is the oldest direct evidence of string that we have,” he said.

Twisted bark fibers have been found before, but they weren’t enough to show conclusively that Neanderthals used string. But the latest fibers were first twisted counterclockwise into single strands, and three strands were then twisted clockwise to form a string that wouldn’t unravel.

“This is the first time we found a piece with multiple fibers and two layers of twistings that tells us we have a string,” Hardy said.

The fibers are thought to come from the inner bark of a conifer tree, which implies the string’s makers had detailed knowledge of trees. “You can’t just get any old tree and get fiber from it, nor can you take the right kind of tree and get it at any time of year,” he said.

The three-ply structure also suggests the Neanderthals who made it had basic numeracy skills.

“They are showing knowledge of pairs and sets of numbers,” Hardy said. “You have to understand these elements in order to create the structure – without that, you wouldn’t get a cord.”

The discovery of the string fragment hints at a range of objects used by Neanderthals, such as wooden items, animal skins, fabrics, and ropes.

Excavations at a Neandertal site in France called Abri du Maras (shown) uncovered a stone tool containing remnants of the oldest known string.

Hardy hopes analysis of other Neanderthal finds will reveal fragments of more perishable technologies, such as basketry and weaving. Not all scientists are convinced that the latest find shows conclusively that Neanderthals made string, however.

Andrew Sorensen, a Paleolithic archaeologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, notes the fragment is extremely fine – about as thick as five sheets of paper – and may have been too thin to be useful.

Instead, the twisted bark fibers could result from rubbing them together to make tinder for a fire, or from scraping bark off the stone tool, he said.

“I’m a fan of Neanderthals being quite intelligent and being able to do a lot of kinds of things that [early modern humans] do,” he said. “I just don’t know if this is a home-run demonstrating this activity.”