Workers preparing to rebuild fire-damaged Notre Dame cathedral unearth “completely preserved” ancient tombs

Several tombs and a leaden sarcophagus likely dating from the 14th century have been uncovered by archaeologists at Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral following its devastating 2019 fire, France’s culture ministry said.

The burial sites “of remarkable scientific quality” were unearthed during preparatory work for rebuilding the ancient church’s spire at the central spot where the transept crosses the nave, the ministry said on Monday.

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A picture shows a 14th century lead sarcophagus discovered in the floor of Notre Dame Cathedral, in Paris, on March 15, 2022.

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Among the tombs was the “completely preserved, human-shaped sarcophagus made of lead,” it added.

The coffin might have been made for “a senior dignitary” and likely dated from the 1300s — the century following the cathedral’s construction.

As well as the tombs, elements of painted sculptures were found just beneath the current floor level of the cathedral, identified as parts of the original 13th-century rood screen — an architectural element separating the altar area from the nave.

Other parts of the structure, destroyed in the early 18th century, were unearthed during Notre Dame’s mid-1800s restoration and are already on display in the Louvre museum.

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French researchers have carried out the latest archaeological dig before scaffolding is set up to support the rebuilding of the spire.

The excavation, which started on February 2, 2022, is being carried out by the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research, the culture ministry said. Their investigation has been extended until March 25, the ministry said.

The ministry said it was “delighted with these discoveries that will enrich our understanding of the history of Notre Dame.”

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Archaeologists excavate the floor of Notre Dame Cathedral after the discovery of a 14th century lead sarcophagus, in Paris, on March 15, 2022.

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Today, Notre Dame is a cathedral of scaffolding, after that April 2019 fire (likely sparked by an electrical short) which engulfed the church. The magnificent, 160-year-old Gothic spire toppled, and much of the roof collapsed in the fire. Remarkably, though, most of the main stone structure remained. French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to rebuild within five years.

Last year, CBS News visited one of the French forests where they were selecting some of the 1,000 oak trees – at least a century old – for the spire and transept. Read the full report here.

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