Analysis of human skeletal remains is a key component in building an understanding of daily life in medieval and early modern monastic communities. Skeletons can tell us about injuries, general health, and disease as these relate to bones, as well as about diet. Analysis of teeth also yields evidence for diet and disease; and, in younger individuals, can provide quite precise evidence for age at time of death. For older individuals, tooth wear and degree of bony lipping form indicators for less precise estimations of age at death.
During the medieval period, members of the monastic community at Saint-Jean were commonly buried in the eastern cloister alley and the cemetery behind the church. Important individuals, like abbots, bishops and special lay benefactors, were interred in the chapter room and sometimes in the church. These burial practices continued into the early modern period. During the seventeenth century, however, a sepulchral vault was constructed in the eastern part of the church nave to receive the bodies of Saint-Jean’s abbots.
Remains of more than eighty individuals have been recovered through excavation at Saint-Jeand-des-Vignes. About half of these have come from undisturbed graves. The rest have come from two charnal pits and from secondary deposits. Lack of grave goods associated with the intact burials (very common on medieval religious sites) makes dating difficult. Analysis of stratigraphic context and type of tomb architecture has generally permitted designations such as Romanesque, Gothic or Early Modern.