OUTBREAK OF CHOLERA OF THE XIXTH CENTURY: A POTENTIAL CEMETERY DISCOVERED IN MARTIGUES (FRANCE)
Gaëlle Granier, UMR 7268 ADES, Aix Marseille Université, CNRS, EFS
Hélène Marino, Service Archéologie de la ville de Martigues
The archaeological site located at Kennedy Avenue (Martigues, France) has been the subject of a preventive excavation from May to July 2013. Sixty-four funerary structures (primary burials and bones in secondary position) were found during this field operation. Typology of graves and burial modes reveal some specific features. Individuals found in primary position are buried in standardized nailed wood coffins, and these coffins are placed in narrow parallel common trenches, in which they are superimposed on several levels. The burial in collective structures (i.e. trenches) of a large number of individuals – with regard to the population of Martigues in the XIXth century and its usual mortality rate – leads us to think about a disaster graveyard, which existence was confirmed by our researches in the city archives. This plot, used between 1840 and 1854, corresponds to an extension of the existing churchyard, which started as soon as the first cholera epidemics reached the city of Martigues. The year 1854 is also marked by one of the most deadly cholera episodes for this city.
If burials in collective trenches translate a usually high mortality rate, maintaining individualized burials in coffins shows that this mortality crisis was correctly brought under control. The study of this exceptional archaeological site and its related historical data should respond to certain issues: first, the presence of bones in secondary position and without any preserved anatomical connections seems to confirm a more extensive use of the cemetery than during the year 1854 alone. Secondly, the estimation of the maximal geographic extension of this cemetery, together with historical data, will assess the severity of the epidemic crisis. Finally, Biomolecular analyses aim to highlight the involvement of the cholera bacillus from a biological point of view.