A centuries-old sarcophagus discovered under Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris will soon be inaugurated, officials from France’s National Institute of Archaeology, Inrap, announced on Thursday.
Archaeologists discovered the well-preserved lead sarcophagus some 65ft below the ground of the 850-year-old cathedral last month during preventive excavations during preparations to rebuild part of the iconic French Gothic structure devastated by fire in April 2019.
Scientists believe the coffin may date to the 14th century, which would make the find extraordinary. It was found under a mound of earth that contained 14th century furniture.
“If it turns out that it is in fact a sarcophagus from the Middle Ages, we are dealing with an extremely rare burial practice,” said chief archaeologist Christophe Besnier.
A small camera inserted into the coffin revealed remains of tissue and hair, the upper part of a skeleton, a cushion of leaves and objects that have not yet been identified.
The Inrap team also found several other artifacts, including a stone sculpture of a man’s head, resembling Jesus, and decorative stone fragments, some of which still have paint intact.
“We discovered all these riches just 10-15 cm below the floor slabs,” Besnier said. “It was completely unexpected. There were exceptional pieces documenting the history of the monument.
The discovery was “an emotional moment”, he said. “Suddenly we had several hundred pieces ranging from small fragments to large blocks, including hands, feet, carved faces, architectural decorations and plants. Some parts were still stained.
INRAP told France24 that the sarcophagus was carefully extracted from the cathedral on Tuesday and will be transported to the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Toulouse for examination “very soon”.
Institute director Dominique Garcia told the outlet that the remains would be treated with the utmost respect.
“A sarcophagus containing a human body is not an archaeological object,” Garcia said. “These are human remains, and while examining the sarcophagus and analyzing the body and other items inside, we must do so with respect.”
The remains can be reinterned at Notre-Dame afterwards.
It is unclear if the sarcophagus contains any liquid, such as the “forbidden nectar” found in some Egyptian remains that the thugs claimed to consume.