The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

French medieval funerary practices: quantitative and biological analysis of the skeletal remains buried in burial vaults


1CNRS UMR 6578, Unité d’Anthropologie Bioculturelle, Marseille, 2CNRS UMR 6636, MMSH, LAMPEA, Aix-en-Provence

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WHEREAS the individual burial is the rule in the Christian cemeteries around the 13th century AD, a new collective grave appears: the burial vault. In the historical and religious context of, the French Middle Ages, this research aims at determining (1) the relationship between the burial vault and the management process of corpses, and (2) the modalities and the reasons of the recruitment of the deceased in a collective burial.

In such an archaeological and historical context, a funeral (quantitative and spatial analysis) and biological (sex ratio, paleodemography) methodological approach has been developed in. Data were collected from 4 French archaeological sites (Saint-Jacques church in Troyes, Saint-Laurent Grenoble, Saint-Louis in Martigues and Observance in Aix). The data set implies 14 burial vaults, corresponding to 58 522 human remains and to 663 individuals (MNI= 663).

Results revealed various modalities of management process of corpses, from the primary burial, characterized by a selection according to the age (except for children under 5 years old) and sometimes to the sex (exclusion of females?) to ossuary characterized by a significant random recruitment. The vault seems to be a social and material response of burial needs in order to perpetuate (1) the memory of an individual, family and spiritual protection, (2) the communion with the living. Furthermore, this specific collective burial type could also be an answer to the development of ecclesiastical institutions in charge of funeral industry involving the status of deceased, the spatial rationalization of the cemetery with management of human skeletal remains.

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