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. People handle guns on display at a show in Las Vegas.
    Life

    The 3 Gun-Control Laws That Work Best in the U.S.

    States with stricter gun-control laws have fewer homicides, especially when they’re used in combination, according to a new study.

  2. photo: An elderly resident of a village in Japan's Gunma Prefecture.
    Life

    In Japan’s Vanishing Rural Towns, Newcomers Are Wanted

    Facing declining birthrates and rural depopulation, hundreds of “marginal villages” could vanish in a few decades. But some small towns are fighting back.

  3. photo: A woman crosses an overpass above the 101 freeway in Los Angeles, California.
    Transportation

    Navigation Apps Changed the Politics of Traffic

    In an excerpt from the new book The Future of Transportation, CityLab’s Laura Bliss adds up the “price of anarchy” when it comes to traffic navigation apps.

  4. photo: Helsinki's national library
    Design

    How Helsinki Built ‘Book Heaven’

    Finland’s most ambitious library has a lofty mission, says Helsinki’s Tommi Laitio: It’s a kind of monument to the Nordic model of civic engagement.

  5. Equity

    Bernie Sanders and AOC Unveil a Green New Deal for Public Housing

    The Green New Deal for Public Housing Act would commit up to $180 billion over a decade to upgrading 1.2 million federally owned homes.

×