For centuries, the continent of Europe has continued to grow despite it being confined to an area of land. Europe has grown in depth with having built layers upon layers that represent different chapters in its history. To the visible eye, we see the beauty and charm of a European countryside, village, or city striking a pose for all to capture. What about all that lies beneath and everything that the top layer of Europe is built upon?
We don’t often stop and think about the ground of which we walk because it’s just dirt, right? What if your workplace’s parking lot was paved on top of an old church and everyday when you go to work, you’re actually parking your car on top of where a former King of England is buried? How would you feel about buying your groceries over a mass grave where hundreds of people most likely died from some sort of disease? Everywhere you walk, even the most mundane of everyday places, like a parking lot, has an unearthed story to tell.
In 2012, a 500-year-old skeleton was discovered under a parking lot in Leicester, England. The Leicester City Council Social Services staff parking lot was one of three possible sites for the location of the Greyfriars Friary, according to old maps and documents. Richard the III, the King of England from 1483 to 1485, was long believed to be buried in the church of the friary after dying in battle. Archaeologists thought the possibility of finding his remains were considered very slim. The skeleton found showed battle wounds and signs of scoliosis, which fit his description in historical records. After tracing the DNA from the skeleton through a direct descendent of the King, it was confirmed in 2014 that the skeleton was that of King Richard III.
Even more recently, a supermarket in Paris called in archaeologists before continuing the expansion of their basement, and for good reason. Archaeologists were expecting to find a few remains since the store was built upon the same spot that was once a hospital from the 12th through 17th century. Instead they discovered a mass gravesite with the remains of more than 200 people and as they keep digging, archaeologists expect to find even more remains. With a grave this size, it shows that there was a major mortality crisis resulting from an epidemic, famine or extreme fever. Scientists are working on how to determine how old these skeletons are. In the meantime, it is business as usual up above in the supermarket.
It is quite surprising to see what you can find, but that’s what makes it all the more interesting. Unearthing that next layer that Europe is built upon, writes more to the story that is Europe’s history. The next time you walk around your favorite European city, sit at a café to indulge in a mélange or take an afternoon to go shopping, think about the history that lies beneath you. What will you find? What does it tell you? Most importantly, watch your step!