Archeologists have uncovered several tombs as well as an ancient lead sarcophagus likely dating back to the 14th century under Notre Dame cathedral.
The discovery was made during preparatory work for the restoration of the church's spire. Parts of the cathedral were damaged in a devastating 2019 fire.
"The floor of the transept crossing has revealed remains of remarkable scientific quality," France's Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot said, according to CNN, adding that excavation works have been extended until March 25.
Among the tombs was a "completely preserved, human-shaped sarcophagus made of lead" that likely belonged to a high dignitary and dated back to the 14th century, according to NBC News.
The culture ministry notes that the excavation site lies under a stony layer dating back from the 18th century, although lower levels date back as far as the early 13th century — the century following the cathedral's construction.
"We were able to send a small camera inside which showed cloth remains, organic matter such as hair and plant remains," Christophe Besnier from France's National Archaeological Institute said, according to CNN. "The fact that these plants are still there indicates that the contents have been very well preserved."
In addition to the tombs, lying underneath the current floor level of the cathedral were elements of painted sculptures identified as parts of the original rood screen. This architectural element, which separates the altar area from the nave, is believed to date back to the 13th century.
A fire broke out underneath the roof of the cathedral on April 15, 2019, toppling its spire, consuming the roof and threatening the rose-windowed twin towers that keep the cathedral upright. French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to rebuild within five years.
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