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Ancient Sarcophagus Uncovered Beneath Notre Dame Cathedral

Archaeologists excavating at Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral have discovered numerous burials and a human-shaped lead coffin dating back to the 14th century.

A picture shows a 14th-century lead sarcophagus discovered on the floor of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on March 15, 2022. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP) (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA/AFP via Getty Images) )

The excavation is being carried out by archaeologists from the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) as a preventive step prior to the erection of scaffolding required to restore the cathedral’s timber roof ridge. The roof, as well as the 160-year-old Gothic spire of Notre Dame, were damaged in an April 2019 fire that was triggered by an electrical short.

According to France’s Culture Ministry, the excavation site, which sits beneath a stone layer dating back to the 18th century, with some lower strata reaching back as far as the 13th century, has found a plethora of antiquities. According to Dominique Garcia of the INRAP, the discoveries might help historians better comprehend medieval burial traditions up to the 14th century.

A photo shows antique objects found by archaeologists on the floor of Notre Dame Cathedral after the discovery of a 14th-century lead sarcophagus in Paris on March 15, 2022. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP) (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA/AFP via Getty Images) )
Archaeologists excavated the floor of Notre Dame Cathedral after the discovery of a 14th-century lead sarcophagus in Paris on March 15, 2022. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP) (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA/AFP via Getty Images) )

The graves discovered are “of exceptional scientific quality.” Despite being distorted by the weight of stones and dirt, the lead sarcophagus in particular exhibits traces of excellent survival.

Archaeologists were able to see “bits of cloth, hair, and a cushion of leaves on top of the head, a well-known phenomenon when religious leaders were buried,” according to Christophe Besnier, the excavation’s principal archaeologist. “The fact that these plant parts are still inside indicates that the body is in extremely excellent condition.”

The sarcophagus is said to have belonged to a prominent dignitary who died in the 14th century.

Paris, France, April 15, 2019: Flames and smoke are seen billowing from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral on April 15, 2019 in Paris, France. A fire broke out on Monday afternoon and quickly spread across the building, collapsing the spire. The cause is yet unknown, but officials said it was possibly linked to ongoing renovation work. (Photo by Veronique de Viguerie/Getty Images) )

Along with the aforementioned discoveries, archaeologists have discovered a 13th-century rood screen, an architectural piece that separates the altar from the nave, a 19th-century underground heating system, and a pit immediately beneath the cathedral floor, which is thought to have been made around 1230, when the Notre Dame was being built.

Several painted sculptures, including those of vegetables, a pair of carved hands, a bust of an unidentified bearded man, and items dating back to the first chapel, have also been discovered. Throughout its 800-year history, it has been repaired and remodeled countless times.

Archaeologists excavated the floor of Notre Dame Cathedral after the discovery of a 14th-century lead sarcophagus in Paris on March 15, 2022. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP) (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA/AFP via Getty Images) )

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