A lead sarcophagus recently discovered in the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral will soon be opened at the Forensic Institute of Toulouse (south-west). The officials at the archaeological dig said on Thursday that he was to reveal his secrets “in accordance” with human remains legislation. The anthropomorphic sarcophagus, believed to date from the 14th century, was uncovered during archaeological excavations in March ahead of reconstruction work on the tower of the cathedral, which was partially destroyed by the April 2019 fire.
Buried more than a meter underground in the western part of the transept crossing, it was in a good state of preservation. An endoscopic camera allowed a first exploration of the inside of the sarcophagus without opening it: the upper part of the skeleton of the deceased, plant remains under his head, possibly hair, textiles and an as yet unidentified object. The tomb was taken out of the cathedral on Tuesday and placed in a safe place while it awaited being sent to the Forensic Institute of Toulouse “very soon”, Inrap (National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research) said during a news conference.
The previous Louise
There, coroners and scientists will open the sarcophagus to examine the deceased’s bones and other items to determine his gender and health status, and “refine” a still uncertain chronology through carbon-14 dating, said Christophe Besnier. scientific director of the excavations. “The sarcophagus is under banks of 14th-century furniture…if it turns out to be in fact a medieval sarcophagus, we are in an extremely rare burial practice,” he commented. The studies could also shed light on the rank of the deceased, who belonged a priori to an ecclesiastical or secular elite.
But “a human body is not an archaeological object,” noted Dominique Garcia, President of Inrap. “Human remains are governed by the civil code and archaeologists will study them as such.” The team at the Toulouse Forensic Institute has previously examined the burial of Louise de Quengo, a Breton noblewoman who died in 1656 and whose remains were found in remarkably good condition during excavations in the Couvent des Jacobins were found in Rennes, he recalled. After completing the studies, the sarcophagus will be returned “not as an archaeological object, but as an anthropological good”. What will be his final resting place? According to Inrap, traces of a “reburial” at Notre-Dame are being investigated. Louise de Quengo was buried in Tonquédec cemetery, commune of Côtes-d’Armor, in 2015.