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Lost Legacy: Massive Excavation in France Unearths 1,000 Skeletons, Buried Treasure

French Abbey Excavations Unearth Tombs, Skeletons, Artifacts
Source: Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives

Archaeologists excavated numerous cemeteries, including the servant cemetery pictured here.

Feb. 26 2024, Published 1:02 p.m. ET

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Excavations at a sprawling 16th-century abbey in France have unveiled a remarkable discovery: over 1,000 skeletons alongside a collection of ritual religious artifacts, shedding light on life within the convent.

French archaeologists dedicated 14 months to excavating the Beaumont Abbey site nestled in Tours, within the picturesque Loire Valley. Once home to Benedictine nuns, this excavation marks the inaugural exploration of a European abbey.

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Established in 1002, the abbey was used until the tumultuous events of the French Revolution in 1790, when Benedictine nuns faced expulsion, according to the Miami Herald.

Beneath the abbey's ruins lay traces of a village dating back to the 9th and 10th centuries.

The Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives (INRAP) recently disclosed the extraordinary findings.

Philippe Blanchard, overseeing the excavations, detailed a plethora of structures including churches, cloisters, dwellings and ancillary facilities like kitchens, ovens and latrines. Even remnants of gardens and an icebox emerged from the site.

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The excavation revealed three distinct architectural structures. Initially, a modest church with an apse likely served as the village's center of worship.

Subsequently, in the 11th century, a larger church, accompanied by chapels and a cloister, emerged. Lastly, a structure from the 12th to 13th centuries, believed to be an ambulatory, completed the architectural ensemble.

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Historical records suggest around 60 nuns inhabited the abbey during the 16th century, dwindling to 46 by 1790.

Burial sites within the abbey yielded over 1,000 skeletons, spanning various cemeteries for nuns, servants and villagers.

Among the findings were elaborate tombs, likely belonging to esteemed members of the order.

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Nuns were interred in the nave, adorned with crucifixes and medals, while other graves contained religious paraphernalia and pottery fragments.

Notably, remains of infants, possibly from the 10th or 11th century, were unearthed near the church, likely laid to rest due to lack of baptism. These infants were discovered in an area prone to water seepage and considered sacred by the community.

Blanchard said that detailed analysis of the skeletons would unveil insights into the demographics and health of the abbey's inhabitants.

Researchers aim to ascertain the gender distribution and whether the abbey housed solely nuns, as suggested by tomb orientations, which indicate the presence of priests.

In addition to skeletons, the excavation yielded a treasure trove of artifacts, including ceramic ware, animal remains and over 5,000 miscellaneous items that include medals and rosaries, possibly acquired as souvenirs from Rome.

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