All in a day's work. Tom Lawson

Excavations of mass graves have delayed a new train ticket hall in London and a supermarket development in Paris.

In London and Paris, two recent construction projects have been held up for macabre reasons: hundreds or thousands of centuries-old bodies buried in the ground beneath.

Excavations of these mass graves have delayed a new train ticket hall in London and a supermarket development in Paris, pointing to how often construction on a crowded and rapidly modernizing continent involves encounters with the dead.

In London, a city of layers, past generations have lived, died, been buried–and then built upon.

Building work for a high-speed rail line called Crossrail uncovered 3,000 skeletons from the Bedlam burial ground, near Liverpool Street Station in the business district.

(Tom Lawson)

The newly-uncovered graveyard was used for victims of the city's several plagues. The last "Great Plague" struck the city in 1665 (finally wiped out by the Great Fire of London a year later). After 350 years, archaeologists on the Bedlam dig hope testing excavated victims will help them study the disease.

From the 1560s until the 1730s, the pits were used for those who couldn't afford church burial, or weren't accommodated in the overflowing cemeteries. Bedlam, a corruption of the word Bethlehem, was most famously an asylum for those deemed to be lunatic.

(Tom Lawson)

The problem of construction bringing the dead to light also plagues France. Last month, a Monoprix supermarket in Réaumur-Sébastopol, Paris, had to close temporarily while 200 skeletons, packed in tight, neat rows, were excavated from beneath it.

Cataphiles–urban explorers who break into Paris's underground network of tunnels–know that human remains could once often be found there.  Most, however, have now been either taken as trophies or collected together in macabre skull-stacks and bone walls in the official tourist attraction section of the network.

Back in London, building work for the new offices of the Bloomberg media company uncovered so many artifacts that the firm is incorporating a museum into its plans to house them.

The digging up of graves and re-burying of remains has fascinated the British in recent months. The hunt for King Richard III's bones eventually led to the successful excavation of a car park, and to an elaborate series of reinterment ceremonies for the ancient, battle-hacked skeleton.

This post originally appeared on Quartz, an Atlantic partner site.

More from Quartz:

The Coolest Inventions in This Year's White House Science Fair

The Fix for Being Unhappy With Your College Degree Might Be Another Degree

The Truth About Breakfast: You Don't Need It

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A young girl winces from the sting as she receives the polio vaccine in 1954.
    Life

    How Mandatory Vaccination Fueled the Anti-Vaxxer Movement

    To better understand the controversy over New York’s measles outbreak, you have to go back to the late 19th century.

  2. People eat and drink coffee inside a small coffeehouse.
    Life

    Gentrification Is Hurting Kuala Lumpur's Iconic Coffee Shops

    Traditional kopitiams, which serve sweetened coffee in no-frills surroundings, are a part of Malaysian national identity, but their survival is precarious.

  3. A group of students talk as one tests a pedal-free bicycle they have built.
    Environment

    How an Ancestor of the Bicycle Relates to Climate Resilience

    Architecture students in Buffalo built their own versions of the "laufmaschine," a proto-bike invented in response to a 19th-century environmental crisis.

  4. Charts

    The Evolution of Urban Planning in 10 Diagrams

    A new exhibit from the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association showcases the simple visualizations of complex ideas that have changed how we live.

  5. a photo of a beach in Hawaii
    Transportation

    Could Hawaii Be Paradise For Hydrogen-Powered Public Transit?

    As prices drop for renewable power, some researchers hope the island state could be the ideal testbed for hydrogen fuel cells in public transportation.