Unearthing Skeletal Remains Found in Sarcophagi below Notre Dame Cathedral Post-Fire
By: April Carson
When the world observed Notre Dame Cathedral engulfed in flames three years ago, archaeologists were swiftly summoned to assess the destruction and aid with its arduous recovery. During excavations conducted at this sacred site early 2022, two peculiar lead sarcophagi dating back centuries were unearthed - leaving everyone mystified as to who was entombed inside them. After tests conducted on the contents of these burial containers, investigations revealed the skeletal remains of two individuals: an adolescent male and a woman in her late thirties.
Recently, researchers uncovered a remarkable discovery — two sarcophagi that hold the remains of two affluent men. One is an ecclesiastical figure who might have suffered from 'the disease of kings', while the other was considerably younger and could be identified as noble by his skeletal features yet displayed signs of suffering throughout his lifetime. While the exact story of these two individuals remains a mystery, their presence below Notre Dame Cathedral speaks to the possibility that this was once a resting place for the powerful and influential.
Last month, Eric Crubézy, professor of biological anthropology at the University of Toulouse III oversaw the exhumation and subsequent examination of three ancient coffins. Upon inspection he discovered an identification plate belonging to Antoine de la Porte who had passed away in 1710 at age 83. With this information Professor Crubézy has been able to further his research on life expectancy and lifestyles during such a time period. In an email with Live Science he stated: "The first subject is identified via an identification plate on his coffin." He continued to explain that the man, "belonged to a rich and powerful family in France during the 16th century."
Additionally, two other coffins containing skeletal remains were also excavated. These remain unidentified as of yet, though further examination is being conducted in hopes of providing more answers.
As a renowned canon of the cathedral, De la Porte had access to considerable wealth which he used for shoring up Notre Dame's choir. His prominent status is evident from his burial beneath the central part of transept - an area typically reserved for only those with illustrious pedigree and worldly renown.
Given the discovery of these human remains, archaeologists and historians are now reconsidering much of what they knew about the composition of this area.
The University of Toulouse has reported that de la Porte's remains were exceptionally preserved, containing his bones, head and beard hair alongside remnants of textiles. Three medals rested atop the sarcophagus to further pay respect to him. According to Crubézy's analysis, the canon had excellent dental health but exhibited virtually no physical activity in his lifetime. Fascinatingly though, his big toe bone indicated gout – an inflammatory arthritis which is often dubbed as the 'disease of kings' due to its causation by overindulgence in food and drink.
As for the other skeletal remains found in the necropolis, Dr. Musso’s team has confirmed that the bones belong to five men and two women who were most likely all born between 1450 and 1650 AD.
Although the second lead sarcophagus was missing its nameplate, researchers could tell that this man had lived a strenuous life, as he passed away between 25 and 40 years old. Remarkably, it appeared that he had been riding horses ever since childhood - an observation made by Professor Crubézy due to his physical condition upon death; all of his teeth were gone in the months preceding it.
Crubézy's findings on the man's skull and spine indicated evidence of reactive bone, fostering his hypothesis that he could have passed away due to prolonged meningitis caused by tuberculosis.
The mysterious 'Le Cavalier' left researchers amazed even in death, as they observed a funeral practice that preserved his remains despite having no knowledge of his identity. Intriguingly, leaves and flowers were seen around the skull and abdomen of "The Horseman," suggesting an effort to embalm him. According to Crubézy, this was done commonly among nobility after the middle 16th century; where “the horseman's skull had been sawn off and his chest opened for preparation."
Further examination of the remains revealed signs of remarkable mummification. His legs, arms and torso were intact with the clothing he had been wearing at the time; a jupon, a doublet and breeches.
Narrowing down the identity of "Le Cavalier" hinges on when he died, which could have occurred anywhere between the 14th to 18th centuries. In instances where his death occurred in the latter half of 16th century or early 17th century, our records may help us determine who he was. Christophe Besnier, the archaeologist who presently leads INRAP's excavation squad, expressed in a Dec. 9th press conference as reported by The Guardian that "if it is earlier than what we know now, then chances are we will never discover his identity."
Sarcophagi like the one in which "Le Cavalier" was found can provide us with a wealth of information about the past. They are often used to reveal clues about civilizations and their progress, as well as to uncover unknown bodies when they have been preserved for centuries due to their burial beneath a significant landmark. In this instance, the remains of "Le Cavalier" were discovered in a sealed stone coffin within Notre Dame Cathedral, located deep beneath its floors.
The findings were published in the journal of Archaeological Science Reports.
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April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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