5,000-year-old group burial chamber found in France

Archaeologists have discovered a Neolithic hypogeum, an underground tomb with a corridor leading to the burial chamber, in Saint-Memmie, a town in the Marne department of northeastern France. It dates to 3500-3000 B.C. and contains the skeletal remains of at least 50 individuals, plus grave goods including limestone beads from a necklace, perforated animal canines used as pendants and flint tools.

First bones emerge in hypogeum excavation. Photo courtesy INRAP.The Marne region has a particular concentration of hypogea due to its chalk subsoil which makes digging under the ground or in the sides of cliffs comparatively easy. While 160 of them have been found in Marne over the centuries, only five of them have been scientifically documented. The rest were dug up and emptied out without archaeological investigation. The Saint-Memmie excavation, therefore, is a unique opportunity to use the latest and greatest methods and technology to reveal new information about this funerary practice.

The hypogeum consists of an entrance opening on to a sloping corridor 12.5 feet long. It widens out to an antechamber that tightens again, leaving just wide enough a doorway for a man to pass through. This design is typical of the hypogea in the Marne region, but it does have one unusual feature: the entrance was accessible from ground level when it was built.

The chamber is 65 square feet in area and contains multiple layers of bones. They are densely packed in the space, interlocked with each other, and some of them have been burned. There are remains of adult men and women, adolescents, young children and infants. More than 2,000 bones and 50 skulls have been unearthed thus far.

The excavation will continue for a month and the bones will be painstakingly recorded before removal to allow archaeologists to unravel the threads of how the bodies were deposited and when, how the bones were rearranged both by natural means when the tissues decomposed and artificially when the remains were reorganized during later deposits. Laboratory analysis of the bones will hopefully give a more precise idea of the number of people buried here, their age at time of death, sex, health, any familial relationships and the date range of when the hypogeum was in use.

One thought on “5,000-year-old group burial chamber found in France

  1. Those people are ‘Champagners’, and to my unskilled eye this appears to be a place for what is elsewhere referred to as ‘secondary burials’. Arguably, the ‘Battle of the Catalaunian Plains’ took place in the area in 451 AD (Châlons-en-Champagne, where St. Memmie held the first bishopric). A rather cool -or wild- story is the one of “Marie-Angélique Memmie Le Blanc” (a.k.a The Wild Girl of Champagne, The Maid of Châlons, or The Wild Child of Songy), who allegedly in 1730/31 was taken care of as a feral child.

    According to some of the accounts, she had been born around 1712 in Wisconsin as Meskwaki, otherwise referred to as the Indian “Renards/Fox” tribe. By a ‘Madame de Courtemanche’ together with three of her daughters, she had been -more or less according to those reports- brought over from Labrador to Marseille, unfortunately right amid a pest epidemic, before later the later ‘Girl of Memmie’ went on a decade long hunting spree in the French early modern wilderness, until she was taken care of and even learned to read and write.


    “The late Viscount d’Epinoy happened to be then at his country house of Songi; where, having heard the various accounts of the little savage that had appeared on his grounds, he gave orders to catch her; and particularly to the shepherd who had discovered her first in a vineyard. [..] …Mademoiselle Le Blanc, the name by which she is now called, remembers perfectly ​well her having passed a river two or three days before she was taken; and we shall see by and by, that this is one of the most certain facts of her history. She was then accompanied by another girl, a little older than herself, and a black likewise; but whether that was her natural colour, or whether she was only painted, like Le Blanc, is uncertain.”

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