Archaeologists in protective gear have opened the two strange lead sarcophagi found buried under Notre Dame in Paris. After the famous cathedral burned to the ground in 2019, a number of incredible finds were discovered under the rubble. Among them were two unusual lead sarcophagi buried under the cathedral hundreds of years ago.
Carefully opening the sarcophagi wearing protective clothing because of the lead, researchers from the University of Toulouse have discovered the remains of two wealthy men. One of the bodies has been identified as Antoine de la Porte, thanks to an epitaph that has remained largely untouched by time. “This is the body of M. Antoine de la Porte, canon,” reads the epitaph. “He died on December 24, 1710, at the age of 83. Rest in peace”.
The casket was made of lead to help preserve the body, a ritual only available to the wealthy at the time. However, the coffin was damaged and the body was in an advanced stage of decomposition. Only bones, hair and a few fragments of textiles were preserved. The bones show evidence of a sedentary lifestyle as well as gout, a disease sometimes caused by excessive eating and drinking, the archaeologists said.
De la Porte was a canon, according to archaeologists, which explains the location of his coffin under the central part of the basilica, usually reserved for the important people. During his lifetime he was influential and wealthy, commissioned several paintings that are now on display in the Louvre, and paid for repairs to the cathedral itself.
The identity of the occupant of the second sarcophagus, however, remains a mystery. The body appears to be that of a man between the ages of 25 and 40 who may have ridden horses since childhood. Leaves and flowers were found on his skull and abdomen. Although he was laid in a part of the cathedral that suggests importance or prominence, it is not yet known who he was, nor in what century he lived. The bones show signs of chronic disease, while most of his teeth were destroyed before his death. The scientists also found signs of a deformed skull. Currently nicknamed “The Cavalryman”, archaeologists still have hope that they will be able to identify the body.
“If the date of his death was around the second half of the 16th century or the beginning of the 17th century, we may be able to identify him in the death register we have,” lead scientist Christophe Besnier told a press conference . “If he had died earlier, we would probably never know who he was.” “The horseman’s skull was cut open and his chest was opened to be embalmed,” said the professor of biological anthropology at the University of Toulouse, Eric Crubesy. It was a common practice among the nobility after the mid-16th century,” he added.
For now, experts believe that the cause of his death could be chronic meningitis as a result of tuberculosis. The team will continue to examine the bodies and publish more findings in the coming months, it said Nova.