Scientists inspecting the remains of a man with a sawed-off elongated skull, found under Notre Dame. Credit: Denis Gliksman, Inrap

Sawed-Off Elongated Head Found in Sarcophagus Beneath Notre Dame

Scientists found the remains of a 14th century rider with an elongated skull beneath Notre Dame.


French scientists have opened two lead sarcophagi discovered during excavations in Notre Dame Cathedral. Inside one of them were the remains of Canon Antoine de la Porte, who died in 1710. In the other, there is the skeleton of a horseman of noble origin, whose skull was artificially deformed in childhood (elongated), and sawed after death. According to researchers, he lived in the XIV century.

How archaeology benefited from the recent Notre Dame fire

The Notre Dame Cathedral is located in the center of the French capital, on the island of Cité, which was built in 1163–1345 on the site of the Gallo-Roman temple of Jupiter and the Christian basilica of St. Stephen. The temple is a Gothic five-nave basilica with a short transept, a choir, and a crown of chapels. The facades of the building are decorated with sculptures, including scenes from the life of the Mother of God and the Last Judgment.


In the XVII-XVIII centuries, the interior and facade of the cathedral were significantly rebuilt. During the restoration, which took place in the middle of the 19th century, a 96-meter oak spire was built, which was decorated with bronze statues of the apostles and evangelists.

On April 15, 2019, a fire broke out in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the fight against which took about 14 hours. Most of the structure that caught fire was wooden frame built in the 12th-13th centuries from 1300 oaks. The source of the fire was located at the base of the spire, where restoration work was underway at that time, which began in 2018. Through the scaffolding, the fire quickly spread to the entire roof of the cathedral. As a result, the spire collapsed, damaging the vaults of the building.

The discovery of the lead sarcophagus. Credit: Denis Gliksman, Inrap
The discovery of the lead sarcophagus. Credit: Denis Gliksman, Inrap

From February to April of this year, scientists from the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research of France carried out excavations in the Notre Dame cathedral, anticipating the installation of scaffolding, which is necessary for the reconstruction of the spire. During these works, archaeologists discovered two lead sarcophagi, which were taken to the Toulouse University Hospital Center for autopsy.

One of the deceased had a sawed-off elongated skull

The remains of one person were identified thanks to the epitaph. It turned out that Antoine de la Porte was resting inside the lead sarcophagus. He died on December 24, 1710, at the age of 83. He was a wealthy canon who financed part of the reconstruction of the cathedral. According to scientists, all of his bones, as well as his hair and beard, have survived to this day.


Inside the second sarcophagus, dated to the 14th century, the researchers found the remains of a man aged between 25-40 years old. According to scientists, this man did not serve in the church. He was a rider of aristocratic origin, whose head was artificially deformed during childhood. It is an example of what we nowadays call elongated skulls, which are extremely rare, and finding one under Notre Dame is shocking.


As for this deceased, it seems that after his death his body was embalmed, which was a rare practice for that time. Apparently, as part of this procedure, the man’s skull was sawn apart. His coffin also contained numerous plant remains. It seems that a flower wreath was located on the head of the deceased.

Flower remains from the sarcophagus. Credit: Denis Gliksman, Inrap
Flower remains from the sarcophagus. Credit: Denis Gliksman, Inrap

What do we know about the ancient elongated skulls like the one found under Notre Dame?

When and where the skulls were first deformed is a complicated question. Today, the oldest known cases are about 10-12 thousand years old, and they come from different parts of our planet. Thus, the earliest evidence of this custom, dating back to the beginning of the Holocene, was found among Australian aborigines in the region of the middle reaches of the Murray River.

It was also common among representatives of one of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A cultures from the Shanidar cave in Iraq, known for its numerous remains of Neanderthals. In addition, two artificially deformed skulls, about 11,000–12,000 years old, have been discovered over the past few years in northeast China, near Harbin.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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