On February 4, 1756, it was Martres-d'Artière, in Auvergne, that peasants digging their fields accidentally discover a vaulted tomb containing a monolithic rectangular sarcophagus and some incomprehensible inscriptions. Under the clay-sealed lid was a lead beer. Inside we discovered the body of a child mummified, "Embalmed in the style of Egyptians», Which had miraculously kept all its freshness.
The white skin, the flesh and even the ears and the tongue had retained all their suppleness. "The eye itself enjoyed all its brilliance»Reports Abbé Ordinaire. The face was intact and the child seemed only asleep. The balm gave off a pleasant and lingering smell. Stunned by this discovery, the villagers immediately saw the remains of a saint: the body is deposited in a river to keep it cool while the "pilgrims" march past. The remains are then transported from churches to churches where they are mistreated, some destroying them to keep some relics: the tongue and teeth are torn off, the bands and the skin of the forehead cut up… Only the Bishop of Clermont takes the initiative to put an end to these extravagances and give the order to bury the body.
An apothecary from Clermont-Ferrand analyzes the mummy, he notices that the mummy is a child between 10 and 14 years old, he has not been eviscerated but has been embalmed with resinous products and surrounded by hemp strips. The mummy underwent a treatment similar to that of Egypt, with many spices, oils, Judean bitumen or pissasphalt. The joints had kept their flexibility and all the internal organs were still soft.
Saracen or Gallo-Roman mummy?
The child is then reburied in the village cemetery until Versailles requests that it be sent to the Paris Museum. After all these vicissitudes the mummy has deteriorated considerably, the journey completes the process of destruction. Once studied, the mummy is considered to be a young Arab dating from the Saracen incursions.
The lead coffin was sold to cover legal costs. Today the mummy is kept in the repositories of the Musée de l'Homme. The vaulted type of tomb described, later discoveries of lead sarcophagi found in the region, now suggest that the young man was the son of a Gallo-Roman aristocrat. That said, the exceptional conservation remains a mystery, it recalls the Chinese mummy from tomb 168 of the Han dynasty which, immersed in a bath of mercury and salts, had also kept all its flexibility. But is it the lead coffin that protected this Auvergne mummy so well? A perfect seal of the sarcophagus? Or perhaps the rising carbon dioxide that we notice there?
It is regrettable that this mummy, which made a lot of talk, was not further studied and the tomb excavated.
- Le Puy-de-Dôme on the evening of the Revolution, from the manuscript of N. Ordinaire, text compiled and annotated by A. Poitrineau, Publications de l’Institut d’Etudes du Massif Central, 1989.
- Malta - Brown, The Puy-de-Dome, Les éditions du Bastion, 1882 (reed. 1988)
- Soto-Heim (Patricia), "The mummy of the Martres d´Artières (Auvergne)", Archaeological files, n ° 252, pp. 54-55.