In 2013, archaeologists spent five months excavating a site at the town of Entrains-sur-Nohain in Burgundy. For four centuries at the start of the first millennium, the area was home to the Roman city of Intaranum. The dig revealed roads, stone houses, and wells for supplying wealthy residents’ private baths. The bottom of one such 130-centimeter-wide (4.3 ft) well revealed a gruesome surprise.
More than 4 meters (13 ft) down, the diggers found bones from over 20 bodies. The remains came from men, women, and children—it was a collection of civilian casualties. They weren’t part of the Roman settlement, as they were carbon dated to be from sometime between the 8th and 10th centuries.
Three competing theories explain how so many corpses ended up being thrown into an old hole. One says an epidemic swept through a village. Another suggests that they were unwitting victims of a nearby battle. On June 25, 841, a battle took place 25 kilometers (15 mi) north of the site. Tens of thousands of troops fought for secession for the Carolingian Empire. Marching armies aren’t known for leaving civilians in peace, and a band of combatants may have raided the village before or after the battle.
A third possibility is equally violent, as gangs of Vikings marauded all over France in the second half of the ninth century. Even if history’s most infamous pillagers weren’t behind the deed, they could well have stirred enough unrest to create bands of brigands among the locals.