Excavations inside Notre-Dame de Paris have unearthed new material related to the cathedral’s past.
Archaeologists from Inrap have been working in the cathedral for several years as part of the restoration process following the devastating fire of 2019. The latest phase of the project involved excavation in the area where the transept crosses the nave, in advance of the construction of the vast scaffolding needed to repair the spire.
Underneath the cathedral floor in this area archaeologists discovered burials, sculptures, and masonry from different phases in the building’s history. Among the discoveries were a large number of fragments of Notre-Dame de Paris’ lost medieval rood screen. This decorative screen separating the chancel and the nave was built in c.1230, but destroyed in the 18th century; only a very small part remains standing today. During excavations, many parts of the original 13th-century screen were discovered carefully buried beneath the floor, mostly still bearing brightly coloured paint and intricate sculptural details.
Archaeologists also uncovered several burials, in the form of both plaster sarcophagi and graves cut directly into the ground, which are believed to date to between the 14th and 18th centuries. One of the most intriguing discoveries was a human-shaped lead sarcophagus. Researchers have used an endoscopic camera to look inside the sarcophagus and were able to identify plant remains, textiles, hair, and other organic material, suggesting that the body is also in a very good state of preservation. More work is needed to determine the deceased’s identity and the date of the sarcophagus, but it is believed to have belonged to an important individual, who may have died in the 14th century.
Excavations have now come to an end due to the tight schedule of the reconstruction work, but archaeologists are continuing to analyse the material recently uncovered.