Archive for the ‘Medieval’ Category

Rare medieval arrowhead found in Norway

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019

A rare iron arrowhead estimated to be about 1,000 years old has been discovered in the mountains of the Hardanger Plateau in central southern Norway. Local resident Ernst Hagen found it lying casually on the ground when he was out for a walk outside his mountain cabin near the spectacular Vøringsfossen waterfall. (He’s in rarified company; composer Edvard Grieg had a cabin there too.)

Realizing the hunting tool had to predate the use of firearms, Hagen took the 12 cm (4.7 inches) iron arrowhead to the county council where archaeologist Tore Slinning confirmed it was a historic piece and no comparable finds had been reported in Hordaland county. Experts have estimated it to date to the early Middle Ages based on its design.

The plateau, the largest eroded plain plateau in Europe, has a cold alpine climate and is home to the Hardangerjøkulen glacier, one of Norway’s largest. There is archaeological evidence of villages in the area going back to the Neolithic era. These are believed to have been nomadic settlements occupied temporarily by hunters following the migrating herds of reindeer. Even today the plateau is home to some of the largest herds of reindeer in the world who cross from their winter feeding grounds east of the plateau to their summer breeding grounds on the west side.

Artifact finds are extremely rare in the area, with small objects destroyed by the glacier movement or covered in ice and snow. Norway’s glaciers have shrunk by 12% over the past 50 years, however, and the glacier retreat is rapidly increasing due to climate change. As with other endangered cold environments, archaeological finds that would otherwise be preserved indefinitely in the ice are being exposed by thaw.

The arrowhead is rusted and could have been so since shortly after the medieval reindeer hunter missed his quarry a thousand years ago. It may also have oxidized very recently when the artifact was exposed to the air after the ice melted. The same goes for the wooden shaft and fletching which have not survived. If the arrow was trapped in soil, they may have decomposed over many centuries. If the whole thing was encased ensconced in ice, on the other hand, we may have lost them very recently.

The arrowhead is now being conserved at the University Museum in Bergen. It will be stabilized so that it does not continue to corrode and experts will attempt to narrow down its date of manufacture.

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Church donates medieval hand-bell donated to National Museum of Ireland

Sunday, October 13th, 2019

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin has donated an early medieval hand-bell believed to date to the 8th or 9th century to the National Museum of Ireland. The bell is something of a mysterious object and little is known about its ancient and recent past.

The Knockatemple Hand-Bell was discovered in 1879 at the site of a ruined church in Knockatemple near Glendalough Co. Wicklow. Dr. W. Frazer announced to the Royal Irish Academy on May 26, 1879, the results of the excavation on behalf of Mr. Henry Keogh of Roundwood House who explored the ruins of the church that year.

“This church is situation in the parish of Newcastle, Co. Wicklow, near Roundwood, and in the vicinity of the Vartry Water Reservoir. There appear to be no reliable records of its foundation or destruction, which is so complete that its walls were level to the ground, and what remained of it required to be cleared out of clay and rubbish for two or three feet before the flooring was reached. It must have been a large building, 50 feet long and 26 feet wide, with two side aisles 9 feet wide in the clear, and 26 feet in length, which from the plan may have been of later erection that the church itself. It was disposed east and west, and the floor, which was on the south side, was 4 feet in width. The aisles as well as the central portion of the church were paved with large flat stones, and in one of the aisles to the northward was what Mr. Keogh conjectures to be the remains of a stone altar situated in the east of the building; but he could find no trace of an altar in the body of the church itself. […]

The large square-shaped bronze bell…, measures 12 inches high, and 8 inches across. It was found at the east end of the church, about two feet under the surface, near the position the altar would occupy. It had a handle, which was broken off by the workmen in excavating it…. They also damaged one part of the top of the bell with a pickaxe. Mr. Keogh has polished a corner of it, and it consists of fine bronze made in two portions, the halves being rivetted together.

There was no indication as to the age of the bell noted in the 19th century records. The only artifacts recovered in the 1879 excavation with absolute dates were two coins of Henry III of England (r. 1216-1272) and Alexander II of Scotland (r. 1214-1249) found in burials in the clay and debris layer, so either disturbed church burials or post-destruction interrals.

The bell’s history after its excavation is obscure too. The Archdiocese has owned it since the 1920s. They believe it was bought at auction by a priest of St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, the episcopal seat of the Archbishop of Dublin, in 1915. In 1927, the discovery of the bell was recorded in The Deaneries of Arklow and Wicklow a paper by V Rev. Myles V. Ronan published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. Ronan’s description differed slightly from Frazer’s in that he recognized the bell was made of iron with “traces of bronze plating.”

The Archdiocese wasn’t actively aware of the delicate historic treasure in its care until Cormac Bourke a curator of Medieval antiquities at the Ulster Museum, Belfast, tracked down the bell through the records and reached out to the Diocesan Archives a few years ago. Realizing the artifact needed special conservatorial experience, Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, wrote to the National Museum of Ireland telling them about the bell and offering to donate it to the National Collection of historic hand-bells.

Archbishop Martin officially presented the Knockatemple Hand-Bell to Maeve Sikora, Keeper of Irish Antiquities at the NMI, on September 26th.

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Huge medieval coin hoard found in Denmark

Saturday, October 12th, 2019

A hoard of approximately 1,000 silver and copper coins from the Middle Ages has been found in the woods near Vejle, southeastern Denmark. It is the first medieval coin hoard and the greatest treasure from the Middle Ages ever found in this part of the country and will shed new light on the history of trade in the area.

The hoard was found by VejleMuseerne archaeologist Kasper Terp Høgsberg who was searching the area where individual coins had been found earlier: four of them in March 2017, another in August 2018 and another in September of this year. The finders had turned them into the museum, and after the most recent discovery, Høgsberg decided to investigate the site with a metal detector. He was astonished when his detector started signalling over and over and he quickly found coin after coin just under the surface.

“It felt completely unreal. It is a once-in-a-lifetime thing to find such a treasure. It will never happen again in my career as an archaeologist!” said Høgsberg.

“I thought I was going to find a lost purse with 20 coins along a road, but it just kept going until I eventually had hundreds of coins.”

To get an overview of the walking trail and perhaps find a central location where a hoard might have been buried, Høgsberg scanned along the path. A little ways up on a slope, the detector gave a strong signal. The archaeologist called in a colleague and together they dug out a large block of soil for removal to the Conservation Center in Vejle. As they dug around the area indicated by the detector, they found fragments of pottery and textile with coins still attached to them. This was how the hoard had been buried: wrapped in a cloth and placed in a vessel.

In total, they discovered 803 loose coins, 80% of them silver, 20% copper, along the path and an estimated couple of hundred still ensconced in the burial pot. That’s not counting the six individual ones found over the past two years or any other random finds people might have picked up while strolling through the woods. The museum has made a call to the public to turn in any coins found in the park.

Most of the coins were minted in Hanseatic League cities in Germany around 1400. There are also some Danish coins of yet-to-be-determined dates and one that has been dated to 1424. That is the most recent coin of the ones that have been examined, so the hoard had to have been buried after that. In the first half of the 15th century, Erik of Pomerania ruled Denmark and there were significant conflicts, some escalating to full-blown wars, between Denmark and the Hanseatic cities of northern Germany. Nonetheless, the Hanseatic League remained Denmark’s main trading partner throughout the period, hence the high number of German coins in the hoard.

While it’s difficult to do any direct conversion of currency from 600 years ago, in terms of buying power all the silver coins in the hoard could have bought 10 cows or supported a farmer’s family for more than a year.

The 803 loose coins will go on temporary display at the Spinderihallerne Culture Museum in Vejle this autumn. The coins still attached to the surviving textile and pot are currently being excavated and conserved.

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Well-preserved dog remains found in Peru

Wednesday, October 9th, 2019

The well-preserved remains of a 1000-year-old dog have been discovered in the Sechin archaeological site in Peru. The dog’s remains are in excellent condition, with significant patches of yellow and brown fur and toe pads still extant.

Sechin, a prehistoric site in northern Peru’s Casma and Sechin river valleys, was inhabited from at least 7600 B.C., the earliest radiocarbon date result from the settlement. Very little is known about the population, but the site was occupied by the Casma/Sechin culture for thousands of years. By 3600 B.C. they were building monumental structures like pyramids, plazas and friezes. The plaza and frieze at Sechin Bajo are the two oldest monumental structures known in the Americas. The Casma/Sechin culture appears to have abandoned Sechin as a result of a war around 100 B.C., but they would later reoccupy it.

The dog’s remains, which date to the reoccupation period, are the second discovery made by the archaeological team since excavations began. It was discovered in the main structure of Sechin, a monumental complex believed to have had religious purpose. Preliminary investigation of the dog suggest it was a native breed from the prehispanic era that was used in the temple.

The excavation project aims to find out more about the history and people Sechin. More finds are expected now the dig has encountered the most recent habitation layer. This first stage of excavations will end in November. After a break for winter, the next stage will begin.

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Anglo-Saxon name found on Galloway Hoard arm-ring

Thursday, October 3rd, 2019

The first round of research into the Galloway Hoard, the richest and most varied Viking hoard ever discovered in Britain or Ireland, has revealed a name and it’s an Anglo-Saxon name, not a Viking one.  Five of the silver armbands in the hoard have runes etched on them. Runic scripts are varied, complex and were used for several different languages so interpreting them can be challenging. Dr. David Parsons of the University of Wales was able to decipher the Old English runes inscribed on one of the silver arm-rings. They read “Ecgbeorht,” an ancient spelling of the name “Egbert.”

“Five of the silver arm-rings have runic inscriptions scratched into them which may have functioned as labels identifying distinct portions of the hoard, perhaps recording the names of the people who owned and buried them. Arm-rings of this sort are most commonly associated with Viking discoveries around the Irish Sea coastlands. Yet these runes are not of the familiar Scandinavian variety common around this date on the nearby Isle of Man, but of a distinctively Anglo-Saxon type. And while several of the texts are abbreviated and uncertain, one is splendidly clear: it reads Ecgbeorht, Egbert, a common and thoroughly Anglo-Saxon man’s name.

There is some reason, therefore, to suspect that the Galloway ‘Viking’ Hoard may have been deposited by a people who, to judge by name and choice of script, may have considered themselves part of the English-speaking world. It is even possible that these were locals: Galloway had been part of Anglo-Saxon Northumbria since the early eighth century, and was referred to as the ‘Saxon coast’ in the Irish chronicles as late as the tenth century.”

The fact that a man’s name was etched into one of the 100 pieces in the hoard does not mean he’s the person who assembled it and/or buried it, notwithstanding the plethora of current headlines hyping Egbert as the hoard’s owner. The three abbreviated Anglo-Saxon runic inscriptions also seem to have been names, and the fourth one which has yet to be deciphered could be one too, so it’s not about the “owner of the Galloway Hoard found,” but rather evidence in favor of Anglo-Saxon speakers having had their hands on at least some elements of this hoard before it was buried in the early 10th century.

Dr Adrian Maldonado, Glenmorangie Research Fellow at National Museums Scotland, said:

“If the hoard belonged to a person or group of Anglo-Saxon speakers, does it mean they were out raiding with other Vikings? Or that these Viking hoards were not always the product of Scandinavian raiders? There are other explanations, but either way this transforms our thinking on the ‘Viking Age’ in Scotland.

“These inscriptions are evidence that identity was complex in the past, just as it can be today. In Early Medieval Scotland, we have inscriptions in five different scripts (Latin, ogham, Pictish symbols, Scandinavian and Anglian runes) making it a diverse and multilingual era. Place-names in British, Gaelic, Norse and Old English were being coined in South West Scotland around the time of the Galloway Hoard.  The sea was more like a motorway, allowing people to communicate across linguistic boundaries, exchanging ideas and objects. This is just a glimpse of how the Galloway Hoard will continue to challenge our thinking as conservation continues.”

The Hoard is not on display as conservators and researchers work on it. Next spring will kick off a new exhibition tour at four museums in Scotland beginning with the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh in May.

Meanwhile, the Galloway Hoard is at the center of a whole different kind of show right now, a courtroom drama, if you will. You might recall that back in 2017 when National Museums Scotland announced that it had raised the $2.5 million for the ex gratia payment to secure the hoard, the award was going to be split down the middle between the finder, metal detectorist Derek McLennan, and the owners of the field where the hoard was found, the Church of Scotland. Well two years have passed, and not only has the Church not received a penny of those millions, McLennan has full on ghosted them. They can’t even reach him on the phone.

It turns out that everywhere else in the UK, the Treasure Act stipulates that awards are to be split between finder and landowner, but in Scotland all payment divisions are solely at the discretion of the finders. The widely accepted practice among metal detectorists is the 50/50 split because it encourages landowners to grant them permission to search their land. No place to look, nothing to find. A partnership relationship benefits everyone.

According to the Church of Scotland, this agreement was formalized between both parties when the National Museums Scotland raised the funds. They would split the proceeds and the Church would use its share “for the good of the local parish.” A year later, the Church reached out to Reverend David Bartholomew, a metal detectorist friend of McLennan’s who had been with him the day of the find, asking him to find out what was up with the moneys because he wasn’t responding to their attempts to contact him. So then Bartholomew tried calling, emailing, writing letters and even showed up at his house, all to no avail.

The Church of Scotland has now filed suit. McLennan has not responded to any requests for comment from the media.

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Cimabue masterpiece found in French kitchen

Tuesday, September 24th, 2019

A painting that for years hung over a hotplate in a Compiegne kitchen has been identified as a 13th century tempera-on-panel by Cimabue. Its owner, a woman in her 90s, knew nothing about it. She thought it was a Russian religious icon and had no recollection of how or when she’d gotten it. Even though it had been perched over the hotplate for years, it was in good condition. When the elderly lady decided to move out and sell her 1960s home and its contents, she contacted a local auctioneer to see if there was anything worse selling. The appraiser had a week to go through the house before the owner sent everything to the dump.

She noticed the painting over the hotplate right away and thought it might be something special, an Italian primitive piece worth several hundred thousand euros, at least. She suggested they get expert from Paris to assess it. Old Masters specialists from the Turquin gallery in Paris examined the painting in detail, including under infrared light, and determined that it is was painted by Cimabue.

“It’s a major discovery for the history of art,” Pinta said of the newly discovered work measuring about 10 inches by 8 inches (24 centimeters by 20 centimeters). Other experts agreed.

The Florentine painter Cenni di Pepo (c. 1240 – c. 1302), nicknamed Cimabue, was a pioneering artists of the late medieval period who introduced naturalistic emotion and perspective into the two-dimensional, heavily symbolic Byzantine painting style. In so doing, he and contemporaries like his student Giotto were key to the transition of the static, stylized painting of Middle Ages into the Italian Renaissance. There are only 11 known panel paintings by Cimabue and none of them are signed.

The newly discovered panel, Christ Mocked, depicts Jesus surrounded by a jeering mob after his trial before the Sanhedrin, an event described in all three Synoptic Gospels. It was originally part of a larger piece, perhaps an altarpiece diptych, that depicted several small scenes from Christ’s Passion and death. It was dismembered and sold off in individual lots, a sadly common fate for rare early panel paintings during the frenzied souvenir collecting of the Grand Tour era. Scholars believe that two other panels from the piece are now in the Frick Collection in New York and National Gallery, London.

The Frick acquired its panel, The Flagellation of Christ, in 1950, but at the time it was loosely attributed only to the Tuscan school. It wasn’t confirmed as the work of the innovative medieval master until 2000 when the companion piece now in the National Gallery, The Virgin and Child with Two Angels, was rediscovered in the ancestral home of a Suffolk aristocrat and was accepted by the government in lieu of Inheritance Tax. The wood — type, carpentry and condition, down to the wormholes — and paint — material and style — comparison marked the two panels as having been painted at the same time by Cimabue.

After examining the French kitchen find, Turquin gallery specialists concluded with “certitude” it bore hallmarks of Cimabue’s work, Pinta said.

They noted clear similarities with the two panels of Cimabue’s diptych, one displayed at the Frick Collection in New York and the other at the National Gallery in London.

Likenesses in the facial expressions and buildings the artist painted and the techniques used to convey light and distance specifically pointed to the small piece having been created by Cimabue’s hand.

The work will go under the hammer at the Acteon auction house in Senlis, north of Paris, on October 27. It is estimated to sell between four and six million euros ($4.3 million – $6.6 million), but the sky is the limit really. This is the first time a Cimabue has ever come up for auction and museums and collectors with the deepest pockets imaginable are going to be gunning for it.

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Largest Norman coin hoard found in Somerset

Thursday, August 29th, 2019

The largest hoard of coins from the immediate post-Norman Conquest period ever discovered has been unearthed in Somerset. It contains five times more coins bearing the head of William the Conqueror than the total number known to exist before the find. It is the largest Norman treasure of any kind found since 1833.

It was discovered by metal detectorists Adam Staples and Lisa Grace in an unploughed field on a farm in Chew Valley, Somerset, this January. They were showing friends how to use their new equipment when the detector alerted them to the presence of the first coin, a silver penny of William the Conqueror. Over the next five hours, the three of them dug up thousands more. They put them in a bucket, notified the local finds liaison officer as required by law and drove them straight to the British Museum.

Most of the coins are silver pennies of William the Conqueror (r. 1066-1087) and the last Anglo-Saxon king of England Harold II (r. January 1066-October 14 1066). Harold’s reign was so short his coins are very rare. With more than a thousand of them found together in this hoard, it’s likely that there are coins in the mix that haven’t been seen before and even mint marks from previously unknown moneyers. There are also a half pennies (literally silver pennies cut in half) and a few coins bearing the portrait of Edward the Confessor (r. 1042- January 1066) that were part of a tax evasion scheme.

Gareth Williams, the [British M]useum’s curator of early medieval coinage, said the hoard of 2,528 coins was unusually large and “massively important” in shining light on the history of the period.

“One of the big debates amongst historians is the extent to which there was continuity or change, both in the years immediately after the conquest and across a longer period,” he said. “The coins help us understand how changes under Norman rule impacted on society as a whole.”

Three of the coins have been identified as “mules”, a combination of two types of coin – essentially an early form of tax-dodging by the moneyer, the person who made them.

These coins have designs and language that relate to both Harold and William, and would have been easy to pass off as legal tender as the average Anglo-Saxon was illiterate and the stylised images of the kings looked similar.

The hoard must have been buried before 1072, and probably just two or three years after the Norman Conquest of 1066. The value of the coins at that time would have been enough to buy 500 sheep, so a considerable amount of wealth. During those turbulent times, hiding portable wealth in a hole in the ground was the safe choice.

The coins are currently being assessed and catalogued by experts at the British Museum. A coroner’s inquest will be held to determine if the hoard qualifies as treasure under the terms of the Treasure Act of 1996. (It does, no question.) A treasure valuation committee will then determine fair market value for the coins. Museums will be given the opportunity to raise the amount of the assessed value which will be shared 50/50 by the finders and the landowner.

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Six sacrificed noble children found in Peru

Wednesday, August 28th, 2019

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of another six sacrificed children in the ancient city of Huanchaco on the northern coast of Peru. They had cut marks on the thorax from when their hearts were moved, and were placed in graves facing the ocean. Some of the skeletons still have remnants of skin and hair.

The graves were unearthed in the town’s Pampa la Cruz neighborhood where 56 skeletons were found in June of last year, but unlike previous finds, these children were interred with precious artifacts, gold and silver jewelry and feather and textile headdresses. These are markers of rank, an indication that the children came from wealthy noble and/or priestly families.

“This is the biggest site where the remains of sacrificed children have been found,” chief archeologist Feren Castillo told AFP on Tuesday.

Castillo said the children, who were aged between four and 14, were sacrificed in a ritual to honor the Chimu culture’s gods.

“They were sacrificed to appease the El Nino phenomenon,” and show signs of being killed during wet weather, he said.

He added that there may still be more to be found.

“It’s uncontrollable, this thing with the children. Wherever you dig, there’s another one,” Castillo said.

Today Huanchaco is a popular beach destination outside the colonial city of Trujillo. It has been inhabited by a chronology of Peruvian cultures since the Salinar first fished there between 400 and 200 B.C. The Chimú culture ruled the area from the mid-9th century until they were conquered by the Inca in 1470. At the time of the mass sacrifices — 1200 to 1400 A.D. — Huanchaco was the main port of the Chimú capital Chan Chan. 

The latest finds bring the total tally of sacrificed children discovered at the site up to 227. The skeletal remains of more than 50 adult men, likely warriors, have also been found, but they range in date from the 8th century through the 15th, so were not part of the single large sacrifice event that claimed the lives of the children and more than 200 camelids, believed to be llamas.

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Green Viking, walk. Red Viking, stop.

Monday, August 26th, 2019

As of Monday, August 26th, 17 of the traffic lights in Aarhus, Denmark, are using red and green Vikings to signal to pedestrians when it’s safe to cross the street.

The second-largest city in Denmark today, the fortified settlement of Aros was founded by Vikings in the 8th century. It was located at the mouth of the Aarhus river, a natural harbour of a fjord on the east coast of the Jutland peninsula and by the 10th century, it was a major center of trade, the seat of bishopric and defended by a powerful earth rampart that encircled the city.

There are a couple of Danish cities that may have older pedigrees than Aarhus’, but Ribe and Hedeby (founded in the early 8th century) and other early Viking-settled towns can no longer boast their original layouts. The historic center of Aarhus today maps onto the medieval settlement. The structures have changed and ground level may have risen, but many of the streets in central Aarhus are exactly where they were in the 10th century. (Click on the arrows and drag left and right to compare the 10th century map to the center of modern Aarhus.) The 17 traffic lights encircle the Viking center.

“Many people do not know about Aarhus’ special importance for the Viking period, and I want to change that. We want to tell the forgotten stories and rebrand Aarhus as the Viking city we are,” Aarhus Technology and Environment Councilor Bünyamin Simsek] said.

“On a modest budget, we can change selected pedestrian crossings and create value for both tourists and Aarhusianers,” he continued.

It is a cheap and cheerful way to mark a Viking Aarhus walking route. Each light costs 1,000 Danish kroner, less than 150 dollars, and they are just ridiculously charming. The old-school stick figures stand no more of a chance against the brutally cute invaders than the monks of Lindisfarne did.

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7th c. Merovingian sarcophagus found in Cahors

Monday, August 19th, 2019

A Merovingian-era sarcophagus dating to the 7th century has been discovered in Cahors, Lot Department, southwestern France. Department archaeologists were excavating the courtyard of a public building in anticipation of future construction when they unearthed a large limestone coffin. The rectangular sarcophagus was topped with a four-sided gabled lid and was unbroken. The lid was still sealed to the box, its mortar joint unbroken. The find is unprecedented and of great significance to archaeologists because little is known about Merovingian Cahors. 

Archaeologists passed an endoscope through a crack in the stone to establish whether the sarcophagus’ contents were intact. They confirmed that skeletal remains were undisturbed inside the coffin before attempting to open the heavy lid. On Tuesday, August 13th, the limestone lid was strapped to a mechanical digger and carefully raised.

Forensic anthropologists from the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) worked with the Lot archaeologists to excavate and examine the burial. Initial analysis found the remains belonged to an elderly woman with the tell-tale lesions of osteoarthritis on her bones.  There were no grave goods inside the coffin which is a common feature of Christian burials.

The find site is believed to have been on the property of a monastery founded by Desiderius (aka Didier) of Cahors, a 7th century aristocrat with close ties to Merovingian royalty who in his role as bishop of Cahors built multiple churches and monasteries in the area. Desiderius was renown for building in the Roman style — cut stone blocks rather than wood, wattle and daub — and he founded at least one convent for women. The sarcophagus appears to have been placed in a passageway (possibly the cloister), an indication that she must have been someone of importance.

The bones have been removed from the sarcophagus and will be studied further at an INRAP laboratory. The remains will be radiocarbon dated to narrow down when the woman died. The preliminary dating to the 7th century is based on layer archaeology. Ongoing excavations have found pottery from the period and what is believed to be the remains of an old kitchen.

The sarcophagus and its lid are destined for the Musée de Cahors Henri-Martin, currently closed for renovations with reopening scheduled for early 2020. The museum is named after impressionist painter Henri-Jean Guillaume Martin and is known for its collection and temporary exhibition of work by artists from the 20th century to the present, but it also has a significant collection of archaeological artifacts from the region.

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