The lid alone weighs almost a ton. It is a mastodon, carved from limestone, which was discovered by archaeologists on land bordering the Reims canal. As part of a preventive excavation campaign carried out by Inrap (National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research), a 2nd century sarcophagus was unearthed at the end of 2022, near the banks of the Reims canal. A discovery that had until then been kept hidden.
“It’s quite exceptional, it’s the first time that we have found a tomb intact and which has not been looted. It was sealed by eight iron staples and we were the first to explore it,” rejoices Agnès Balmelle, deputy scientific and technical director at Inrap Grand Est.
Preserved from the looting committed in the 19th and 20th centuries on numerous sarcophagi in the Reims necropolises, this one contained the body of a woman. “The skeleton occupied the entire space of the 1m53 tank, the individual must have been around forty years old and had a special status. Four oil lamps were found near her legs and shoulders, as well as a small mirror, an amber ring and a comb,” explains Agnès Balmelle.
Enough to shed light on the funerary practices of ancient times? Not so sure because many mysteries remain. This sarcophagus was buried in an ancient necropolis, rue Soussillon where Inrap intervened on 1,200 m2. On a small mound of chalk, around twenty other funerary remains were unearthed: mainly nailed coffins as well as a few cremations.
The rest will be written in the coming years for the “Reims sarcophagus”. Samples taken from the sediment of the skeletal bones and from the bottom of the tank will make it possible to determine the presence of plant remains or products linked to the treatment of bodies.
Furthermore, Inrap in Reims is establishing a genetic database on Reims funerary complexes as part of a research project. The DNA taken from a tooth from the skeleton will be compared to a database made up of 80 samples in order to determine whether this woman belonged to a local or more distant elite.