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Coffins Within Coffins
July 30, 2013 7:14 AM   Subscribe

Hey, remember when archaeologists discovered the remains of Richard III under a car park in Leicester? Well, apparently they also unearthed a stone coffin dated to at least a century before Richard. When it was opened, it was revealed to contain... another coffin, sealed and made of lead. None of us in the team have ever seen a lead coffin within a stone coffin before, says one of the archaeologists. Oh sure, it's probably just the remains of one of the founders of the monastery that used to be there, but if the movies have taught us anything, it's that if something is mysterious, it must also be evil, right?
posted by Cash4Lead (46 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Maybe they'll sell the lead...you know, 4 cash.
posted by reformedjerk at 7:18 AM on July 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


look for as nozzle on the side of the lead coffin that says "Air intact", add batteries and jam.
"in the days of my youth I was told what was..."
posted by clavdivs at 7:19 AM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


way to bury the lead guys
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:20 AM on July 30, 2013 [79 favorites]


I believe this is the term you're looking for.
posted by Cash4Lead at 7:20 AM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Save the cat.
posted by arcticseal at 7:25 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Isn't this the way a horror movie starts?
posted by Repack Rider at 7:29 AM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


They may have never seen a lead coffin inside a stone coffin before, but there's been at least one other example of a medieval lead coffin unearthed in the UK:
During excavations of the former Chancel of the priory in 1981, a curious discovery was made in what was the middle of the aisle, in front of where the altar would have originally stood. Archaeologists came upon a vault, in which was the skeleton of a female, and what appeared to be a lead coffin. As part of a three-year investigation in which a number of skeletons had been excavated, it was assumed that the contents of the lead coffin would be decayed in a similar manner. The archaeologists were astounded to discover that within the lead wrapper was a complete body, enclosed in a parcel of bees wax treated cloth. The body was removed to a local hospital morgue while funds were raised to examine it properly.

The services of Deirdre O' Sulivan (lecturer of Archaeology) and Dr. Eddie Tapp (a paleopathologist) were acquired, and the body underwent a thorough autopsy. The preservation of the body was remarkable, much of the soft tissue appeared as though the corpse had been recently deceased, although the body was at least 500 years old. The cause of death was ascertained as a collapsed lung due to a chest injury, allowing blood and air to fill the chest cavity restricting the expansion of the lung. There were even traces of liquid blood within the wound.

Just who this man was is a mystery, he was obviously a figure of some importance in the local area. It is suggested that he is Anthony De Lucy, who is thought to have died fighting abroad in 1368. In truth he may belong to anyone of the powerful families of this part of Cumbria, and his real identity may never be known. Whoever it is, it seems he died a violent death, but was obviously thought worthy of such special interment.
And probably others. Unfortunately, because google now inexplicably pushes recent news reports to the top of search results, it's a bitch to find the relevant background and context.
posted by notyou at 7:35 AM on July 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


if something is mysterious, it must also be evil, right?

If it's a mysterious sealed lead coffin buried inside another coffin, damn right it is!
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:35 AM on July 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


The picture in the linked article shows that the lead is all corroded away near the feet of the skeleton, so either there's no evil locked in that coffin OR IT HAS ALREADY ESCAPED AND WALKS AMONG US! AHHHHH!
posted by Wretch729 at 7:42 AM on July 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


Personally, I'd like some confirmation that the Leicester car park in question is not sitting over a hellmouth before we proceed here.
posted by thivaia at 7:42 AM on July 30, 2013 [15 favorites]


And probably others. Unfortunately, because google now inexplicably pushes recent news reports to the top of search results, it's a bitch to find the relevant background and context.

Actually, the Wikipedia article on the "St Bees Man" says he has been authoritatively identified as Anthony de Lucy. Wikipedia article lacks good sources but this report confirms, and cites a source article in Medieval Archaeology, 2010
posted by beagle at 7:46 AM on July 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


I've used most of the car parks in Leicester. The Haymarket Shopping Centre one is the best candidate for a hellmouth, I think.
posted by pipeski at 7:48 AM on July 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


The lead is the white stuff that looks like it's soft and fabric-like? Weird.
posted by sio42 at 7:49 AM on July 30, 2013


Lead shrouds and lead-lined coffins seem to be rare by virtue of expense, but they've been used since the Romans onward for superior (water-resistant) preservation of people who could afford it. The practice gets downright popular after the 17th century, but before that you have people like Edith of England (with stone sarcophagus, even), Robert the Bruce, Elizabeth of York, and Arbella Stuart, among many others.
posted by Gingersnap at 7:53 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lead coffins aren't that unusual in the UK, according to my wife, who has a degree in archaeology from Bradford.

Archaeologists dread them because they're airtight, so the contents tend to succumb to anaerobic decomposition, generating lots of hydrogen sulfide and other gases while the non-osseous contents decay in a black oily soup. If you accidentally puncture one of these canned corpses the result is a fountain of fizzy liquid putrescence: the stench is said to be indescribable, your clothes will have to be burned, and you will end up in a hospital bed under observation for a couple of days while they make sure you haven't contracted smallpox or something equally disgusting. (It's said to be as bad as/worse than the smell working on a recent mass grave, e.g. at one of the war crimes sites in the former Yugoslavia -- something the folks at Bradford also got called on to do.)
posted by cstross at 7:57 AM on July 30, 2013 [35 favorites]


Not to worry. Prof. Quatermass will figure it out.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:57 AM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well shoot, I thought this was going to be about the walrus.
posted by pullayup at 8:04 AM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Lead coffins can be really pretty, though, and yes, it can look kind of crumbly and white. Here's a detail on a later Roman one (nb designed to be put into a bigger sarcophagus) and more details on the construction of Roman ones in this brief article on the University of Pennsylvania's version. It notes that because lead can be soft, certain kinds of construction of lead coffins could not support the weight of a body so they were designed to be used within a wooden or stone box. We even have crazy lead coffins/remains in America! Also good: the ultra-mysterious lead "burrito" coffins from Gabii.
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:05 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pass - - sounds too toxic to be safe.
posted by fairmettle at 8:08 AM on July 30, 2013


spiegel had a cool graveyard story the other day:

vampire cemetery found in Poland
posted by bukvich at 8:14 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Like a casket in a coffin,
Like a lead within a stone,
In a carpark in a city
Where the sun has never shone,

Like the dolls that keep on nesting
In a half forgotten doll,
Or the box within a coffer
Someone tosses in a hole.

Friars walk along a hall
And leave their footprints on the bricks;
Is the sound of distant footsteps
Just a shovel and a pick?

Pictures halfway reconstructed
From the fragments of a bone
Half remembered names and faces
Halfway certain to be known,

When we knew the dig was over
In the summer of the King,
Then we suddenly discovered
That we'd found an extra thing,

Like a casket in a coffin,
Like a lead within a stone,
In a carpark in a city
Where the sun has never shone,

As the images unwind,
Like the coffins
That you find
In the coffins of your mind!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:19 AM on July 30, 2013 [18 favorites]


Archaeologists dread them because they're airtight, so the contents tend to succumb to anaerobic decomposition, generating lots of hydrogen sulfide and other gases while the non-osseous contents decay in a black oily soup

True, but fortunately for the archaeologists, this lead coffin doesn't look all that airtight (or are those not tibias and feet poking out?)
posted by oinopaponton at 8:24 AM on July 30, 2013


"None of us in the team have ever seen a lead coffin within a stone coffin before"

"vampire cemetery found in Poland"

Next you'll tell me that people are investigating noises they hear in the basement in the middle of the night and not even bothering to turn the lights on...
posted by Big_B at 8:41 AM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


if you're buried in a burrito coffin, do you get to choose your own toppings?
posted by Cash4Lead at 8:51 AM on July 30, 2013


if you're buried in a burrito coffin, do you get to choose your own toppings?

Guacamoldy?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:13 AM on July 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Refried spleens. Pico de-dead-guy-o. Sour haeme? I like this game...
posted by stenseng at 10:13 AM on July 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Mortillas.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:16 AM on July 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


notyou and beagle, what a great story. Apart from the discovery of the body itself, there's always so much more to discover about history that what I already knew—I had no idea there were 14th century crusades in Prussia and I see great vistas of Wikipedia opening up in my future. ;)

I also didn't know there was a place called Cockermouth, hee hee. </twelve-year-old>
posted by daisyk at 10:16 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


So if burrito lead coffins are really that common (and that wouldn't surprise me), I'm a little concerned that nobody on the team for this big Leicester project has ever seen them before. Not calling anyone's reports into question, but it seems a little odd.
posted by immlass at 10:27 AM on July 30, 2013


So if burrito lead coffins are really that common (and that wouldn't surprise me)

I should clarify-- the "burrito"-style lead coffins are extremely unusual and I'm not sure they've even been published yet. They're also much earlier and from Italy. Lead coffins themselves aren't crazy uncommon from various periods of British history; I think it's the combination of mostly intact interior lead coffin + intact stone sarcophagus + time period/location + heavy news cycle that's eager for results vs. actual timeline of archaeological process that makes this particular lead coffin more striking. It will be interesting to learn more about the contents of the coffin when they figure out how to best investigate it.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:39 AM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


What's inside the lead coffin? Another coffin, made from pure distilled madness.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:00 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Send in Hellboy to investigate.
posted by JDC8 at 11:03 AM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


You just know that there's some junior scientist who's been assigned to watch over the body and is standing there in the middle of the night, with his fingers twitching, mumbling to himself, "Do not pull out the stake. Do not pull out the stake. No. Must... not... pull... out... the... stake. Totally bad idea. Won't do it. Nope. If I did, though, I could put it back right away and no one would... Bad idea! Bad! Do not..."
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:04 AM on July 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


I should clarify-- the "burrito"-style lead coffins are extremely unusual and I'm not sure they've even been published yet. They're also much earlier and from Italy.

Ah, okay, that makes sense, thanks!
posted by immlass at 11:28 AM on July 30, 2013


When they open that coffin and there's non-euclidean space inside I'm calling it quits.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 12:02 PM on July 30, 2013


I keep thinking of The Big Egg. Something is wrong with me.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:09 PM on July 30, 2013


Paging Dr. coldchef to exam room 130461.
posted by djeo at 1:56 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


notyou and beagle, what a great story. Apart from the discovery of the body itself, there's always so much more to discover about history that what I already knew—I had no idea there were 14th century crusades in Prussia and I see great vistas of Wikipedia opening up in my future. ;)

Indeed, the crusades Prussia and nearby were used by young wealthy members of the aristocracy to fulfill their cultural desire for "chivalric" war. They could travel out to the area, join the forces of the Teutonic Knights, have a few exciting battles against the "heathens", and then go home. Among the famous of such crusaders was the future Henry IV, who travelled there with a number of his nearest friends and his own small force. It may very well have been the most obnoxious form of tourism in history, however.
posted by Thing at 2:50 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Here's something I love about Metafilter -- I came in here to post about the Knight of St. Bees and not only have you already done it, but you've added the information that he has been identified. I had not known that. All I knew was that I'll never forget the sight of his face, even though I was still a girl when I got that particular book about mummies.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:03 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Shrouded lettuce. Frijole water.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:18 PM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


In other news: Ancient 'Hall of the Dead' Unearthed in England
posted by homunculus at 11:16 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


According to the legend Attila the Hun was buried in something similar

"Legend says that he was laid to rest in a triple coffin made of gold, silver, and iron, along with some of the spoils of his conquests."

Not just a legend?
posted by bdz at 11:48 PM on July 30, 2013


I plan on being cremated and scattered, but I'm such a fan of burial on an artistic level that I'd love to have a tiny, detailed effigy of myself constructed and buried in some elaborate ritual.

I guess I'd better get cracking on it while my eyes and fingers are still in semi-working order or it'll be the Marie Osmond doll in a storebought dress, in a butter cookie tin, at the nearest construction site with relatively damp cement, the old guard of the G&S Society creaking through "When the Buds are Blossoming" with no tenors, and every random weirdo who wants a free black t-shirt.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:58 AM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Once the events of this play out as they surely must, I wonder whether the news media will pronounce it 'litch' or 'lick'.
posted by painquale at 9:55 AM on July 31, 2013


Tomb Raider: Badger Digs Up Medieval Treasure in Germany
posted by homunculus at 2:20 PM on August 14, 2013


Oldest Gaming Tokens Found in Turkey
posted by homunculus at 1:34 PM on August 16, 2013


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