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Indirect identification of archaeological artefacts in Marie de Bretagne’s sepulture

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L. Bertrand, A. Vichi, J. Doucet, P. Walter, and P. Blanchard. The fate of archaeological keratin fibers in a temperate burial context : Microtaphonomy study of hairs from Marie de Bretagne (15th c., Orléans, France). J. Archaeol. Sci., 42, 487—499, Feb. 2014 [article]

A team of scientists from IPANEMA , INRAP, LAMS and LPS Orsay studied hair and textile fibers found in an exceptional state of preservation in the medieval burial attributed to Marie de Bretagne at the Priory de la Madeleine in Orleans (15th century). Marie de Bretagne was abbess and reformer of the order of Fontevraud (1424—1477).

The results of this work show that the structure of the hair keratins was preserved from the millimeter scale to the atomic scale on half a millennium, as evidenced by small-angle X-ray scattering and synchrotron infrared imaging on the IPANEMA platform. The preservation of the fibers is attributed to the presence of large amounts of copper and lead in the fibers.

If the presence of lead was expected, the coffin of the abbess consisting of oak planks on which were nailed sheets of lead bearing the abbess insignia, the presence of copper is more surprising. No metal objects had indeed been found during the initial excavation of the burial.

This discovery led to a new in-depth observation of organic remains and the discovery of fragments of objects within the tissue remains. The taphonomic analysis of conserved residues thus led to the indirect identification of objects in the burial that had strongly degraded over time.

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Voir en ligne : Article on the Journal of Archaeological science website