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Mystery sarcophagus found under fire-ravaged Notre-Dame to be opened

A mysterious lead sarcophagus discovered in the bowels of Paris' Notre-Dame cathedral after it was devastated by a fire will soon be opened and its secrets revealed, French archaeologists said.   

The lead sarcophagus discovered in the floor of Notre Dame Cathedral, in Paris
The lead sarcophagus discovered in the floor of Notre Dame Cathedral, in Paris. (Photo by Julien de Rosa / AFP)

The announcement came a day before the third anniversary of the inferno that engulfed the 12th-century Gothic landmark, which shocked the world and led to a massive reconstruction project.

During preparatory work to rebuild the church’s ancient spire last month, workers found the well-preserved sarcophagus buried 20 metres underground, lying among the brick pipes of a 19th century heating system.

But the casket is believed to be much older – possibly dating to the 14th century.

Scientists have already peeked into the sarcophagus using an endoscopic camera, revealing the upper part of a skeleton, a pillow of leaves, fabric and as-yet unidentified objects.

The sarcophagus was extracted from the cathedral on Tuesday, France’s INRAP national archaeological research institute said during a press conference.

It is currently being held in a secure location and will be sent “very soon” to the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Toulouse.

Forensic experts and scientists will then open the sarcophagus and study its contents, to identify the skeleton’s gender and former state of health, lead archaeologist Christophe Besnier said, adding that carbon dating technology could be used.

Noting that it was found under a mound of earth that had furniture from the 14th century, Besnier said “if it turns out that it is in fact a sarcophagus from the Middle Ages, we are dealing with an extremely rare burial practice”.

They also hope to determine the social rank of the deceased. Given the place and style of burial, they were presumably among the elite of their time.

However, INRAP head Dominique Garcia emphasised that the body will be examined “in compliance” with French laws regarding human remains.

“A human body is not an archaeological object,” he said. “As human remains, the civil code applies and archaeologists will study it as such.”

Once they are done studying the sarcophagus, it will be returned “not as an archaeological object but as an anthropological asset,” Garcia added.

And could Notre-Dame, this unknown person’s home for so many centuries, serve as their final resting place?

INRAP said the possibility of “re-internment” in the cathedral was being studied.

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PARIS

Paris street art legend Miss.Tic dies aged 66

Miss.Tic, whose provocative work began cropping up in the Montmartre neighbourhood of Paris in the mid-80s and made her a pioneer of French street art, died on Sunday aged 66, her family told AFP.

Paris street art legend Miss.Tic dies aged 66

Radhia Novat grew up in the narrow streets in the shadow of Sacre-Coeur basilica, the daughter of a Tunisian father and a mother from Normandy in western France, where she began stencilling sly and emancipatory slogans.

Her family said she had died of an unspecified illness.

Other French street artists paid tribute to her work.

On Twitter, street artist Christian Guemy, alias C215, hailed “one of the founders of stencil art”. The walls of the 13th arrondissement of Paris – where her images are a common sight – “will never be the same again”, he wrote.

Another colleague, “Jef Aerosol” said she had fought her final illness with courage, in a tribute posted on Instagram.

And France’s newly appointed Culture Minister, Rima Abdul Malak, saluted her “iconic, resolutely feminist” work.

Miss.Tic’s work often included clever wordplays — almost always lost in translation — and a heroine with flowing black hair who resembled the artist herself. The images became fixtures on walls across the capital.

Miss. Tic with some examples of her work. Photo by Bertrand GUAY / AFP

“I had a background in street theatre, and I liked this idea of street art,” Miss.Tic said in a 2011 interview.

“At first I thought, ‘I’m going to write poems’. And then, ‘we need images’ with these poems. I started with self-portraits and then turned towards other women,” she said.

Miss.Tic also drew the attention of law enforcement over complaints of defacing public property, leading to an arrest in 1997.

But her works came to be shown in galleries in France and abroad, with some acquired by the Paris modern art fund of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, according to her website.

And cinema buffs will recognise her work on the poster for Claude Chabrol’s 2007 film “La fille coupee en deux” (“A Girl Cut in Two”).

For a spell she was a favourite of fashion brands such as Kenzo and Louis Vuitton.

“So often it’s not understood that you can be young and beautiful and have things to say,” she told AFP in 2011.

“But it’s true that they sell us what they want with beautiful women. So I thought, I’m going to use these women to sell them poetry.”

Her funeral, the date of which is still to be announced, will be open to the public, said her family.

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