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Archaeologists say they will soon open a human-shaped lead sarcophagus found under the floor of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.
The announcement came around the third anniversary of a devastating fire that engulfed the more than 850-year-old national monument and shocked the world.
The day after the fire, archaeologists were called in to help with the conservation and restoration of the cathedral as workers embarked on the task of rebuilding.
“The vaults crashed down here during the fire and opened a hole in this 19th century heating network and below is a series of very dense layers that are interesting and fascinating,” the archaeologist said. French National Institute of Archeology Christophe Besnier.
Archaeologists were allowed to excavate a small area of the exposed ground in preparation for the scaffolding that was to be built in order to restore the large spire of the church, which collapsed during the fire.
During preparatory excavations, archaeologists uncovered a number of historical artifacts, including painted sculptures, tombs and sections of the lost rood screen, a sort of fence built in 1230 to separate the choir from the congregation.
The rood screen was demolished at the time of Louis XIV, but the 19th century excavations carried out by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc uncovered sections of the ornate wall. These cups are currently kept in the Louvre.
Among the newly discovered tombs was a human-shaped lead sarcophagus which archaeologists believe may date to the 14th century, but they won’t know for sure until it’s opened.
“We were able to send a small camera inside that showed fabric scraps, organic material such as hair and plant remains,” Besnier said.
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He says the plant material indicates that the contents of the sarcophagus were well preserved and may have come from a box tree, which was used to preserve the bodies of the social elite.
France’s National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research said it would attempt to identify and date the remains, believing it to be an important individual.
Burials in churches and cathedrals were generally reserved for elites or members of the clergy, with a location closest to the chancel being the most desirable.
Although other sections of the lost rood screen have also been discovered, archaeologists have been unable to dig them up due to a limited schedule which has been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as concerns over the lead that escaped from the fire, spreading toxic dust in all the rooms. from the center of Paris.
French President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to complete the reconstruction by April 15, 2024, the fifth anniversary of the fire and months before Paris hosts the Summer Olympics.
“Notre Dame is our history, our literature, part of our psyche, the place of all our great events, our epidemics, our wars, our liberations, the epicenter of our lives,” Macron told reporters the day after the ‘fire. “We will rebuild it together.”