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A commuter train excavation near Notre Dame Cathedral has uncovered a 2,000-year-old necropolis containing bodies buried with coins in their mouths and an entire pig skeleton

Burial from the excavation of Boulevard de Port-Royal in Paris, in 2023. The burials of a large necropolis, located south of Lutèce in the 2nd century AD, have been unearthed. © Nicolas Warmé, InrapBurial from the excavation of Boulevard de Port-Royal in Paris, in 2023. The burials of a large necropolis, located south of Lutèce in the 2nd century AD, have been unearthed.

Nicolas Warmé, Inrap

  • 2,000-year-old skeletons have been found in a graveyard near Notre Dame Cathedral.
  • Remains of at least 50 men, women, and children were unearthed during excavation for a train line.
  • About half of the burials had objects like cups, jugs, or dishes buried with them.

A 2,000-year-old necropolis — a city of the dead — has been found in an excavation near Notre Dame Cathedral. 

The remains of at least 50 men, women, and children were found in coffins discovered during a dig to expand an existing commuter train line in the former Gallo-Roman town of Lutetia, where the iconic Parisian cathedral stands today.

“What’s so exceptional about this is that we have a window into our past, which is quite rare in this city,” El Pais reported Dominique Garcia, president of France’s National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP), which led the project, said.

In the 2nd century, the living kept their distance from the dead, burying their loved ones in elaborate sprawling tombs, called necropolises, built to honor those who had passed on — and kept them detached from the cities of the living.

General view of the excavation of Boulevard Port-Royal in Paris, in 2023. The burials of a large necropolis, located south of Lutèce in the 2nd century AD , have been unearthed. © Camille Colonna, InrapGeneral view of the excavation of Boulevard Port-Royal in Paris, in 2023. The burials of a large necropolis, located south of Lutèce in the 2nd century AD , have been unearthed.

Camille Colonna, Inrap

“Drawing on their funeral rites, we can reach a kind of general vision of the people who lived in Paris in the second century,” Garcia added.

At least half of the burial sites contained artifacts like cups, dishes, and other pieces of glass, according to a press release from INRAP. Others contained clothing, jewelry, pins, and belts. 

“At that time, the feeling was that there was another life after death, so people placed things in the grave that would help the dead person to survive in the afterlife,” El Pais reported Garcia said. “That’s why objects from everyday life have been found, as well as pitchers that very likely contained food.”

Cross-checking of two burials from the excavation of the Boulevard de Port-Royal in Paris in 2023. The burials of a large necropolis, located south of Lutèce in the 2nd century AD, have been unearthed . © Camille Colonna, InrapCross-checking of two burials from the excavation of the Boulevard de Port-Royal in Paris in 2023. The burials of a large necropolis, located south of Lutèce in the 2nd century AD, have been unearthed.

Camille Colonna, Inrap

In some coffins, the dead were buried with a coin placed in their coffin or in their mouth — “this practice, common in antiquity, is probably the obol of the ferryman of the underworld, Charon,” according to INRAP.

One pit unearthed by the researchers contained the skeleton of a whole pig, though it is unclear what purpose it may have served.

Representatives for INRAP did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. 

Ceramic goblet discovered in a burial on the excavation of the boulevard Port-royal in Paris, in 2023. The burials of a large necropolis, located south of Lutèce in the 2nd century of our era, have been brought to light. © Nicolas Warmé, InrapCeramic goblet discovered in a burial on the excavation of the boulevard Port-royal in Paris, in 2023. The burials of a large necropolis, located south of Lutèce in the 2nd century of our era, have been brought to light.

Nicolas Warmé, Inrap

According to Smithsonian Magazine, this isn’t the first time the site, named the Saint-Jacques necropolis, has been unearthed by researchers.

In the 1800s, a portion of the ancient cemetery was unearthed by surveyors who were more concerned with the artifacts buried with the dead than the skeletons themselves. So they covered the site back up, only for it to be lost in time for two more centuries. 

After a 2019 fire caused damage to the historic structure, the area surrounding the Notre Dame Cathedral has been the subject of recent archaeological digs. Last year, researchers unearthed — and opened — a mysterious, human-shaped lead sarcophagus discovered underneath the cathedral.

Inside were human remains, later identified as belonging to Antoine de la Porte, 83, a high priest who died in 1710. According to Smithsonian Magazine, archaeologists learned the man’s identity and age from writing discovered on his coffin. 

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