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The mysterious sarcophagus of Notre Dame will open soon

The mysterious sarcophagus of Notre Dame will open soon

A lead stone sarcophagus recently discovered in Notre Dame de Paris will soon open at the Forensic Institute in Toulouse (southwest), where it must reveal its secrets “in accordance with the legislation on human remains,” archaeological excavation officials announced Thursday.

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The anthropomorphic sarcophagus, likely dating from the 14th century, was discovered in March during archaeological excavations prior to reconstruction work on the cathedral’s tower, which was partially destroyed by the April 2019 fire.

It was buried 20 meters underground, in the western part of the ward crossing, and was in a well-preserved condition. An endoscope camera allowed the interior of the coffin to be explored for the first time without opening it: the top of the deceased’s skeleton, plant remains under his head, possibly hair, textiles as well as something yet to be identified.

After it was extracted from the cathedral on Tuesday, the burial was placed in a safe place while waiting for it to be sent “very soon” to the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Toulouse, EINRAB (Institut Nationale d’Equipemental Archaeological Research) said during a press conference.

Christophe Besnier noted that forensic doctors and scientists would open the coffin there to study the deceased’s bones and other objects, in order to determine his gender and health, and “improved” by carbon-14 whose chronology remains uncertain. Scientific Director of Excavations.

He commented, “The sarcophagus lies under embankments containing furniture from the 14th century … If it turns out to be indeed a medieval sarcophagus, we are going through a very rare burial practice.”

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Studies can also provide information on the rank of the deceased, previously belonging to the ecclesiastical or secular elite.

Dominic Garcia, President of Inrap, noted that “the human body is not an archaeological thing.” “As a human remains, civil law applies and archaeologists will study it as such.”

The team of the Forensic Institute of Toulouse had already studied the burial of Louise de Quingues, a Breton noblewoman who died in 1656, whose well-preserved remains were found during excavations at the Couvent des Jacobins in Rennes, he recalls.

Once the studies are completed, the coffin will be returned “not as an artifact, but as an anthropological asset”. What will be his final resting place? According to Inrap, a “reburial” route at Notre Dame is under study.

Louise de Quengo was buried in 2015 in Tonquédec Cemetery, the town of Côtes-d’Armor.