More than 200 ancient skeletons have been discovered under a supermarket in central Paris, French media reported Saturday.
The skeletons are remains of people who were buried centuries ago in communal graves, in what was once a cemetery adjacent to a 12th-century hospital that was destroyed during the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century.
The findings in eight communal graves unearthed so far indicate that a large number of people had to be buried at the same time, said anthropologist Isabelle Abadie.
"The skeletons, the bodies, were deposited in three parallel rows, tight, well-organized," she said. "The graves aren't haphazardly done. Quite the contrary, the burial was clearly organized."
Anthropologists said the orderly burial indicated that the people were victims of an affliction or hunger, not conflict.
"The clues we have on the size of the pit, the number of individuals, all that, it leads us to think that this was due to a crisis," Abadie said. "It could have been caused by different things like an epidemic, or a famine. It could also be fever. There may be many possible explanations."
The French National Institute of Archeological Research has been overseeing the excavation under the supermarket since January. The institute has begun research to determine what caused the deaths and is planning DNA tests to look for possible genetic links among victims.
"We intervened because we suspected the presence of archaeological remains of a funerary nature, that is to say, a cemetery, which was known about thanks to written documentation and old maps," said Pierre Vallat, regional deputy director of the institute. "We knew there was a medieval and modern cemetery, from the Middle Ages to the Industrial Revolution, late 18th century."
When the old hospital and the cemetery were removed from the location, most of the bodies were transferred to the Paris Catacombs. But apparently the job was not done properly, Vallat said.
Supermarket employees were stunned to learn that they were working above an ancient cemetery. The supermarket is temporarily closed so archeologists can complete the work on the site.