Ancient sarcophagus found under Notre-Dame Cathedral

A 14th century lead sarcophagus is seen in the floor of Notre-Dame Cathedral, in Paris, on March 15.

PARIS (Reuters) — Archaeologists have found an ancient lead sarcophagus under Notre-Dame Cathedral along with fragments of a rood screen, offering a new insight into the history of the building, which is currently under reconstruction after a devastating fire in 2019.

Notre-Dame, which dates back to the 12th century, commissioned the excavation works inside the cathedral as a precautionary measure before the installation of scaffolding needed to restore a 100-meter-high wooden roof ridge.

“The floor of the transept crossing has revealed remains of remarkable scientific quality,” French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot said, adding that excavation work had been extended until March 25.

The excavation site lies under a stony layer that dates from the 18th century, but some lower levels go back as far as the 14th, and some even the early 13th century, the Culture Ministry said.

French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot visits the Notre Dame Cathedral archaeological research site.

Christophe Besnier from France’s National Archaeological Institute said: “We were able to send a small camera inside which showed cloth remains, organic matter such as hair and plant remains.

“The fact that these plants are still there indicates that the contents have been very well preserved.”

Archaeologists said the lead sarcophagus probably belonged to a high dignitary and said it could date back to the 14th century, which — if confirmed — would make it a spectacular find.

The excavation also revealed a pit immediately below the cathedral floor, which was likely to have been made around 1230, when Notre-Dame, one of the oldest examples of French Gothic, was under construction.

The Notre-Dame fire shocked France, with tearful Parisians and stunned tourists watching in disbelief as the blaze sent the cathedral’s spire crashing down.