The fire that nearly destroyed the Notre Dame Cathedral in 2019 has led to the discovery of two mysterious lead coffins hidden beneath its floor.
From the ashes and rubble, the team has now brought to light two bodies. According to journalist Kim Willsher at The Guardian, reporting from Paris, one is a young nobleman, and the other, an elite priest.
A brass plaque on the priest’s coffin confirms the body belongs to a past religious leader of Notre Dame, named Antoine de la Porte, who died in 1710 at age 83.
Because de la Porte helped redevelop the famous cathedral, he was quite a respected figure in his time. There’s even a painting hung of him in the Louvre.
The owner of the other body is more of a mystery. The unnamed man appears to have died between the ages of 25 and 40, and he was obviously important given his prominent burial.
His bones speak to a life spent on horseback, and so researchers have nicknamed him “Le Cavalier”, meaning the horseman.
Eric Crubézy, a biological anthropologist at the University of Toulouse III in France, was there to oversee the opening of the coffins.
Afterwards, he told Live Science the body of Le Cavalier was in bad overall health. Most of his teeth had been lost and his bones showed signs of injury. The way his skull had been sawn off and his chest opened to be embalmed was apparently a common practice in the burial of nobility.
Some aspects of the man’s skeleton have led Crubézy to suspect he might have even died from chronic meningitis, brought on by tuberculosis.
“He would have had a difficult end of life,” Crubézy told reporters at a press conference, according to The Guardian.
In death, his body has almost become molded into the coffin. No organic tissue is left. He is only sprinkled with the remnants of leaves and flowers, which he was buried with.
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In comparison, de la Porte looked much healthier when he died. Even at the ripe age of 83, the high priest’s teeth appear to have been in excellent condition.
“They were remarkable for his age. We see this very rarely, but he clearly cleaned his teeth and took care of them,” Crubézy told reporters.
The only real sign of sickness that stood out on the old man’s body was his big toe. Crubézy told Live Science it looked like it has been stricken by gout. This is an arthritic disease that is often associated with royalty who overindulge in meat, seafood, or alcohol.
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Researchers at Inrap plan on analyzing the two bodies further to better understand who these men were and how they lived all those years ago.
But as interesting as these humans might be to scientists and historians, in France, their right as people comes first.
Under French law, bodies found in coffins are not archaeological artifacts. They are human remains and must be treated with respect.
The team at Inrap plans on honoring these rules, and when their careful work with the bodies is done, they will be put to rest in a peaceful spot once more.