A mysterious sarcophagus, some 600 years old, has been discovered by builders restoring Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, which was ravaged by fire in 2019.
Archaeologists believe the sealed lead coffin would have been made for a person of some importance in the 1300s – the century after the cathedral’s construction.
However, exactly who was buried deep under France’s most important cathedral remains unknown for now.
A team of researchers is working against time to uncover the secrets of the “completely preserved, human-shaped sarcophagus made of lead” before building work resumes.
They already used a tiny endoscopic camera to peek inside the coffin, which appeared to have been warped over the years by the weight of the earth above it.
Christophe Besnier, the chief archaeologist, said that they had managed to make out “pieces of fabric, hair and a pillow of leaves on top of the head, a well known phenomenon when religious leaders were buried".
“The fact that these plant elements are still inside means the body is in a very good state of conservation."
Notre Dame has traditionally been the burial place of archbishops, bishops and members of the nobility but the exact identity of the person in the newly-discovered sarcophagus remains unknown.
The French Ministry of Culture has described the discovery of a “completely preserved” coffin of this date as a a find of “remarkable scientific quality”.
When it was originally built Notre Dame didn’t have a crypt so bodies were interred under the floor or in miniature tombs at ground level.
A funeral crypt was added in 1711 but no-one has been buried there since Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, archbishop of Paris, in 2007.
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Police were never able to establish the exact cause of the blaze in April 2019, which destroyed the Paris landmark’s spire and destroyed most of its roof.
There have been various claims that it was caused by an electrical fault or a worker dropping a cigarette.
While President Macron promised at one point that the cathedral could be restored in time for the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics, architects expect the work could take from twenty to forty years.
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