The term “catacombs,” given to depositories of the dead, is said to have been first applied to the tombs of the early Christian martyrs of Rome. Some catacombs are very ancient, such as those of Thebes in Egypt, built more than three thousand years ago. The most famous modern catacombs are those of Paris, which-extend under that city, over a space of two hundred acres. They were formed out of subterranean quarries, which in 1777 were set aside for this purpose by the government. Their wide entrances had but to be walled up, and proper doors made, and they were ready for their intended purpose. The bones of the dead from the various old cemeteries around Paris were then conveyed in carts during the night and deposited in them. Since then the bones of the victims of the Revolutions, from 1789 to 1830, have also found a place there. In these depositories of the dead, huge piles of human bones, from which all the animal matter had decayed before they were placed therein, are now reduced to phosphate of lime, the most valua-able of all fertilizing materials. They emit no smell whatever; persons may walkthrough long avenues surrounded with these memorials and remains of former generations without feeling the least disagreeable odor.
This article was originally published with the title "Catacombs—Great Deposits of Phosphate of Lime" in Scientific American 13, 13, 102 (December 1857)