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Ancient Tomb Found Beneath Notre Dame is ‘Remarkable Scientific Discovery’ of Sealed Sarcophagus

Zuffe y Louis, CC license

In a Da Vinci Code-esque moment of discovery, archaeologists have uncovered multiple stone tombs and a lead sarcophagus under the floor of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

They are described as a “remarkable scientific discovery,” and consist of several slot tombs and a “completely preserved, human-shaped sarcophagus made of lead,” which the excavators believe still contains human remains.

Suspected as originating in the 13th century, the find was uncovered under the floor during preparatory work to reconstruct the cathedral’s spire above where the transept crosses the nave, which was destroyed by the 2019 fire.

Lead is so much part of the story of the cathedral, and so it’s perhaps unsurprising to find a sarcophagus made of the stuff—restorers have been spending years cleaning the toxic metal off of stones and timbers onto which the heavy metal melted during the fire.

The sarcophagus had buckled under the weight of debris falling from the ceiling, but it was still intact, and researchers used a mini endoscopic camera to peer inside it.

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“You can glimpse pieces of fabric, hair and a pillow of leaves on top of the head, a well known phenomenon when religious leaders were buried,” said Christophe Besnier, the lead archaeologist.

“The fact that these plant elements are still inside means the body is in a very good state of conservation.”

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Along with the tombs and sarcophagus, remains of painted sculptures were also found, including a nearly undamaged bearded male head, some hands with painted sleeves, and sculpted vegetables. A 19th-century hot water heating system was also found.

The discovery offers excellent insight into funerary practices in France during the Middle Ages, and it’s another reminder of the value of that magnificent building, currently on course to be reopened in 2024.

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