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Ancient Secrets Unearthed: 2,000-Year-Old Graves Discovered in Necropolis Beneath Busy Paris Train Station.

Just meters 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 modern-day French capital’s predecessor, 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 by France’s National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP), which covers about 200 square meters of land. The excavation revealed burials believed to be part of the Saint Jacques necropolis dating back to the 2nd century, the research institute said in a news release.

Camille Colonna, an anthropologist at 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 A.D.

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.

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

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 are now only identifiable by their nails.

About half of the remains found during the recent excavation were buried alongside offerings, such as ceramic jugs goblets, dishes and glassware.

Sometimes a coin was placed in the coffin, or even in the mouth of the dead, a common burial 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 traces of shoes inside the graves. They identified them based on the remains of small nails that would have been used in the soles. Some of the dead appeared to have been buried with shoes on their feet, while others were seemingly buried with shoes placed on either side of the body inside the grave, according to INRAP. 

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

Jewelry, hairpins and belts were also discovered with the graves, while 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,” adding that the unearthed graves open “a window into the world of Paris during antiquity.”