Pet Cremation Services in East Asian Countries

 With the declining birth rate and aging population, East Asian countries are facing many questions about the sustainability of their societies. In recent years, South Korea has been mentioned as the country with one of the lowest fertility rates in the world, crudely around 0.7-0.9, and Japan has become the fastest-aging country in the world. People choose not to have children for multiple reasons. Low employment rates and inflation of housing prices make the cost of raising a child immensely high. Also, the cultural changes and the empowerment of women frees them from the used-to-be mandatory fertility responsibility. 

The fertility rate in East Asia, 2020

More and more people choose to own a pet to fulfill their emotional needs. And these pets have become so important to them in the urbanized society where the connection between people is so weak. With this, the pet cremation service started to flourish in these East Asian countries. According to the investigation poll from South Korea’s Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency, in 2018, 55.7% of the participants hoped to use animal cremation facilities when their pets died. The cremation fee can be charged as much as 500,000 South Korean won (430 USD), but people still choose to pay for the service and give their pets a proper goodbye. 

The rings with pet ashes

 After the pandemic, there is even a pet boom. More and more people are having pets and the diversity of the pet cremation service also increases. The ashes of the pets are made into diamonds instead of buried in a cemetery. From an anthropological point of view, this phenomenon might be caused by the shrinking home size and the expansion of the urbanized area. Modern people living in apartments don’t have private gardens where they can bury their pets, and the expansion of the city leads to less usable land for pet cemeteries, and the pet owners have to bury their pets in farther suburban areas. Thus, turning the cremated ashes into portable jewelry becomes a great idea. What’s more, pet cremation can be linked to the Buddhist tradition that is rooted in the East Asian cultural ground. The Buddhists treat every creature as equal, and they believe that animals can be transmitted to human beings in their next life if they are blessed with love and piety. The pet owners in East Asia could have adopted this idea unconsciously and be willing to believe that they will see their pets in the next life. Anyhow, humans are not superior to other animal species, and the world does not only belong to us. And I believe that pet funeral services will become more and more popular in the years to come.

The Japanese Buddhist Pet Funeral

Further Reading:

Work Cited:

News, D. (2009, July 28). In Japan, funerals offered for animals. Deseret News.

Kang, T. (2019, May 3). Why South Korea is seeing a boom in mobile animal cremation services. – The Diplomat.

UNESCAP. “Total Fertility Rates in East Asia in 2020, by Country or Region (in Average Number of Live Births per Woman).” Statista, Statista Inc., 9 Sep 2020,

Ancient Roman Burial Site Discovered in Gaza

In December of 2022, construction crews discovered an ancient burial site in Gaza. The crew made this discovery while working on an Egyptian-funded housing project near Jabaila, a city in the northern Gaza Strip. Since this discovery, crews of archaeologists have been working to excavate the massive site that covers an area of 2,700 square meters (Adwan 2023: 1). These crews are being overseen by French organizations. Luckily for the archaeologists, the graves are remarkably well-preserved, with many containing skeletal remains of Ancient Roman aristocrats. Not only is the site intact, but nothing has been stolen from the graves, which is rare according to Anthony Dutemple, who is the head of mission in Palestine for PUI, a French humanitarian group (Nowakowski 2023: 1).

People working to excavate the burial site. (Photo courtesy of the Washington Post)

The cemetery is about a mile from the ancient Mediterranean city of Anthedon, which was once inhabited by Romans. The area has a rich history that stems from its involvement in ancient trade routes between Levant and Egypt. Alongside the 125 tombs that have been discovered, there have also been two rare sarcophagi that are made out of lead. One of these sarcophagus was decorated with images of grapes, while the other was decorated with images of dolphins.

One of the lead sarcophagi that was discovered at the site. (Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Magazine)

This site is helping to provide more information on human history. According to Rene Elder, a French archaeologist who is leading the dig, the tombs have “revealed a huge amount of information about the cultural material and also about the state of health of the population and the pathologies from which this population may have suffered” (Adwan 2023: 1). In addition to information on the health of the population, the site is providing information on the burial methods and funeral rituals in Roman times. Aside from this, the cemetery serves as a way to preserve the history of Palestinians, Romans, the Gaza Strip, and humans as a collective species.

When I read about this discovery, I thought back to our class discussions on the ethics of unearthing burial sites. Specifically, I thought of the controversies surrounding Native American burial sites and the laws that protect them, such as NAGPRA. Personally, I wouldn’t care if my remains were excavated for research purposes, but I understand that many people would disagree with this statement. Not only are the graves of these people being disturbed, which could be something that they did not want to happen, but the skeletal remains are going to be sent out of Gaza for additional analysis. The disturbance of and removal of skeletal remains from their resting places could be a source of controversy in the future.


Adwan, Issam. 2023. “Archaeologists Unearth the Largest Cemetery Ever Discovered in Gaza and Find Rare Lead Sarcophogi.” AP, September 24, 2023.

Nowakowski, Teresa. 2023. “Roman-Era Cemetery With Over 100 Tombs Unearthed in Gaza.” Smithsonian Magazine, August 2, 2023.

Al-Mughrabi, Nidal. 2023. “At Least 125 Tombs Discovered at Roman-Era Cemetery in Gaza.” Reuters, July 24, 2023.

Additional Resources:

Below are two additional resources that are related to this post. One is an article by abcnews and the other is a YouTube video by Al Jazeera.

Canine Detection

Since their self-domestication, dogs have been invaluable to humans with their companionship and work ethic. Applying Canine Detection in Support of Collaborative Archaeology maintains that dogs can identify human burials. Canine detection is a non-invasive archaeological method similar to “geophysical remote sensing methods.” Canine detection is often used for pre-construction archaeological surveys.

Image 1: Archaeologist and dog

Since 1998, The Institute For Canine Forensics (IFC) has trained Historic Human Remain Detection dogs (HHRD). Working breeds such as Labrador retrievers and herding dogs make successful HHRD canines. Training HHRD dogs takes multiple years and requires them to maintain regular training. A dog’s sense of smell enables them to identify cremation remains and human remains with or without bones. Canines are trained to alert their handler when they come across the scent of human remains. Often, canines alert their handlers by laying down, barking, or sitting.

IFC uses canine detection and collaborative archaeology to protect indigenous burial sites. Collaborative archaeology focuses on the historical record, community oral history, and ground penetrating radar (GPR). IFC works directly with indigenous descent communities to ensure possible burial sites are respected. There is a strong emphasis on rebuilding a relationship between indigenous communities and archaeologists, which was ruined in the 20th century. Archaeologists and IFC ensure there is awareness of indigenous trauma and history that impacts current interactions. IFC is committed to only surveying and publishing results with the permission of indigenous communities. 

HHRD canines working with IFC have successfully detected indigenous burial sites. Most of these projects have occurred in California and are supervised by indigenous peoples. While there may be some error in Canine detection, the dogs have helped keep indigenous burial sites safe from construction disturbances. 

Image 2: Fabel

Canine detection is a worldwide archaeological method. In Croatia, dogs alerted archaeologists to six burials at a 3,000-year-old site on Velebit Mountain. Sophie Valluv, an archaeologist, trained her dog Fabel to be an HHRD canine. Initially, Fabel was trained to assist Valluv in a master’s thesis on canine detection. Valluv and Fabel conducted 120 searches for human remains detection. Fabel could differentiate human remains from animal remains and discovered a 1,600-year-old burial. Another HHRD dog named Dax discovered animal bones in Montana that were 3,500 and 5,000 years old. Canine detection and HHRD canines are invaluable to the archaeological use of non-invasive methods of identifying human remains and burial sites.


Grebenkemper, John, Adela Morris, Brian F. Byrd, and Laurel Engbring. “Applying Canine Detection in Support of Collaborative Archaeology: Advances in Archaeological Practice.” Cambridge Core, July 9, 2021. 

Neimark, Jill. “Can Archaeology Dogs Smell Ancient Time?” SAPIENS, August 17, 2022. 

Image Credit

Image 1: Modern Dog Magazine

Image 2: DigItScotland

Presidential Pets, What can they tell us about society and individuals?

Archaeology can tell us about the Social and Political lives of people. One way this can be examined is by the relationship between humans and animals. Since the start of Democracy in the United States there have only been two presidents who chose not to have a pet, James K Polk and Donald Trump (Summers, 2023). While the most popular pet amongst US Presidents is a dog there have been pets ranging from laughing hyenas (Theodore Roosevelt) to mice from the Whitehouse (Andrew Johnson). While examining the pets in this way can be a human centered approach, the examination can give insight into the most intimate parts of presidents and their families as well as what was socially acceptable by society at the time, due to the public facing nature of being a president.

Socially, presidential pets can give a reading of the American people. One example of this can be seen with dogs. With 73% of all Presidents having a dog, they are the most popular pet amongst presidents (Summers 2023). That said, this can also tell us that Dogs are the most popular amongst the American people, the people who elect the president, with 44.5% of American families owning dogs (Megna 2023).

Image 1. From left to right Herbert Hoover (left) and King Tut his dog used to show voters he had a soft side, Bill Clinton(top right) with his dog buddy and Ronald Reagan (Bottom Right) with Lucky. Showing the endearing nature and relationship between presidents and their dogs. (Cherner 2022)

 Another example of presidential pets showing what is socially acceptable can be seen by President Teddy Roosevelt’s Hyena, Bill, a gift from King Menelik of Abyssinia from Ethiopia (Bryson Taylor 2020). This shows how over time societies understanding and care for animals has changed. In 1904, when Bill lived in the Whitehouse it was socially acceptable to have an animal that has no place being a city. However, as our society has grown and become less human centered it is now illegal to own a Hyena in the US (Basu 2023), a testament to our understanding of societies understanding of how our actions impact animals.

While these pets can be a pulse on society, they can also give unique windows into people’s lives. An example of this is the naming of animals, showing that they are cared for but also the names themselves can give insight into the people taking care of them. One of Theodore Roosevelt’s 14 pets (their horse Algonquin being one of them, seen in image 2) was his daughter, Alice’s garter snake named “Emily Spinach” (National Park Service 2020). First this seems like a juvenile name there is more meaning behind it with Alice saying that the name was picked, “because it was green as spinach and as thin as my Aunt Emily” immediately showing that Alice had some relationship with her aunt who was a thin individual. Oftentimes by naming things they become more humanized (Hymes 2022) so her pet snake became a more important animal tied into her observations of people she cared about. 

To conclude, the presidential pets give a unique ability to look into the lives of these incredibly prominent figures while also understanding how our society is functioning on a social level. 

Image 2. The Roosevelts pony Algonquin with Quentin, Theodore’s son, in the Whitehouse. (National Park Service 2020)

Further Reading Links:

The White House Pets:

Weirdest Presidential Pets in History:


Basu, Lex. “Are Hyenas Dogs (Canines) or Cats (Felines) or Something Else Entirely?” AZ Animals, October 3, 2023.

Bryson Taylor, Derrick. “When the White House Was Full of Claws, Scales, Stripes and Tails.” New York Times, November 14, 2022.

Cherner, Jessica. “10 Photos of Adorable Presidential Dogs and Their Owners-in-Chief.” New York Post, July 5, 2022.

Hymes, Kathryn. “Naming Objects Is the Opposite of Thoughtless Consumption.” The Atlantic, April 18, 2022.

Megna, Michelle. “Pet Ownership Statistics 2023.” Forbes, October 18, 2023.,29%25%20of%20households%20own%20cats.

“The Roosevelt Pets.” National Parks Service, November 22, 2020.

Summers, Robert S. “Types of Pets.” POTUS, 2023.

What Makes Us Special?

I was inspired by our class discussion last week about a species hierarchy. Most groups, including my own, placed humans above all other species. But this sparked the question; at what point in our evolution did we become a species deserving of this ranking? Is this top spot reserved solely for Homo Sapiens? Or the more general genus of Homo? Was Homo Erectus or Neanderthals advanced enough to occupy this top spot? What about the pre-humans that built the 476,000 year old wooden structure recently discovered? No other animals seem to be capable of such a feat. So, what is the line between human and animal, and when did our evolution surpass that line?

Phylogenetic tree of human evolution

The earliest fossils from the genus Homo were discovered in east Africa and dated back 2.3 million years. We know that members of the genus homo used simple stone tools to butcher animal carcasses around 1.8 mya, which elevated their mainly plant diet (Pontzer, 2012). This seems like a definingly Homo trait, yet many animals use stones as tools, including chimpanzees, monkeys, otters, birds, and some fish (Bressan, 2019). However, it seems as if the genus Homo is the only one to have the capacity to modify these stones before use. Maybe the capacity to manufacture tools is what separated the genus Homo from every other. 

Homo Erectus evolved 1.9 million years ago, and persisted until only about 100 thousand years ago. By this time, they occupied Africa and Eurasia, meaning the species had adapted to living in a wide range of environments. The species’ brain size had drastically increased, containing the cognitive capacity to adapt and thrive in any climate (Pontzer, 2012). Perhaps this was the cognitive advancement that set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. We also know Homo Erectus and other hominins of the time used wooden tools, though not many survive. The oldest discovered wood artifact is a polished wood plank found in Israel, dating over 780 thousand years old. 

Then, about 700,000 years ago, Homo Erectus had evolved into Homo Heidelbergensis, who had much in common with modern humans, including bodily proportions, dental adaptations, and cognitive abilities. Homo Heidelbergenis used Levallois style tools and had mastered control of fire. Archaeologists have also found 400,000 year old wood tools used for foraging and hunting. It was likely this species that constructed the 480,000 year old wooden structure, likely a platform used for fishing (Sulivan, 2023). Neanderthals evolved from Homo Heidelbergensis by 250 thousand years ago, and about 50,000 years following, our own species, Homo Sapien, evolved from Homo Heidelbergensis in Africa. Eventually, Homo Sapiens had spread throughout Eurasia, the Americas, and Australia (Pontzer, 2o12).

What Homo Heidelbergnensis may have looked like
480,000 year old wooden structure, built by pre-humans, discovered in Zambia

The point at which the genus Homo claimed its lead in the species hierarchy depends on what Homo-specific advancement you consider to define that jump. Homo Erectus’ ability to thrive in any environment seems the most convincing to me, as this demonstrates a mastery of nature not seen in any other species. 

Further Reading:

Works Cited:

Bressan, D. (2019, March 18). Archaeological evidence shows how animals are mastering the use of Stone Tools. Forbes. 

Pontzer, Herman. (2012) Overview of Hominin Evolution. Nature Education Knowledge

Sulivan, William. (2023, September 22). Archaeologists uncover notched logs that may be the oldest known wooden structure.,date%20to%20476%2C000%20years%20ago. 

Predator to Pet

“A dog is a man’s best friend”… for now. This universal quote highlights the loyal bond that exists between humans and the common companion species: dogs. This relationship shares a rich history with many cuddles, walks, and serotonin. On the other side of this history dogs were used as source for labor. As history continues to develop, humans find themselves appealing to new species, ones that could challenge my initial quote.

Only seen on television we have witnessed domesticated reptiles, parrots, and monkeys. 

Figure 1. Ravi from Jessie on Disney with his pet reptile. Credit: Disney
Figure 2. Ross from friends with his pet monkey. Photograph from Justin Van Voorhis
Figure 3. Jack Sparrow entertainer with Parrorts. Photograph from Parrorts for Parties

Many viewers considered these domesticated animals to be peculiar as we never considered nor viewed it possible to have these species as household “pets”. Well it is possible. Humans have begun to develop relationships with what we once considered wild and foreign animals altering the history of “companion species”. For example, foxes who thrive in various environments, have begun to enter the home of humans. Foxes once considered wild and dangerous are now being sold at a current asking price of $8,000 in Russia(Miller, 2023). Another potential new pet that may surprise readers is a skunk. This odorous creature actually makes great for a pet as skunks odor glands can actually be removed, extracting any potential for a stick bomb. Skunks are very curious creatures making them great for homeowners looking for a small buddy to bond with (Miller, 2023). Another recent pet phenomenon is the domestication of rats. This creature is relatively easy to care for as it does not require much attention and is rather independent. These examples provide evidence that as time continues household choices for a pet have strayed away from your typical dog to more foreign species like the ones we see on our television. 

The television can be dangerous. Human’s curious and naive minds sometimes can’t help but watch Tiger King, a show that has been viewed in 64 million households, and want a pet tiger (Reilly, 2020). This thought should go no further. 

Joe Exotic music videos Tiger King
Figure 4. Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness’ is one of Netflix’s biggest 2020 hits. Credit: Netflix

As mentioned television has captivated humans’ minds on what species have the potential to be pets. Although we have seen the domestication of once-wild animals like foxes, skunks, and rats, not all animals have the potential to succeed in domestication. For example, Tigers have natural instincts, behaviors, and physical attributes that make them unsuitable for domestication. The large and immensely powerful animal poses various safety risks, social needs, and diet restrictions. Additionally, tigers are endangered in the wild so rather than focusing on domesticating the species concerns should be focused on the efforts to promote their natural population and habitats. Similar conversations can be had about the domestication of cheetahs and lions who require similar needs to tigers. Ultimately, when considering the domestication of animals into companion species, history has shown that new species can enter our homes. However, it is vital to acknowledge that not all species can be or should be domesticated, even if your television is showing something else. 


Miller, Quincy. “12 Animals That Are Becoming Domesticated as Pets (With Pictures).” 12 Animals That Are Becoming Domesticated as Pets (With Pictures) | Pet Keen Skunks As Pets: Where They’re Legal + How To Care For One (Wideopenspaces.Com)\. September 7, 2023.

Reilly, Nick. “Huge Viewing Figures for Netflix’s ‘Tiger King’ Have Been Revealed.” NME, 23 Apr. 2020, 

Furthur Reading-

Domesticated animals, explained (

Roman Shipwreck Found Off Coast of Sicily

Archaeologists near the coast of Palermo, Sicily, were able to uncover an ancient roman shipwreck filled with amphorae that dates to the second century B.C.E. (Amphorae are basically jars that were used for transportation of wine and olive oil). The shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea gave archaeologists more information on the specifics of what was being traded and showed the ship must have been heading to some type of buyer. Being able to look through this wreckage allows archaeologists to know more about the life on board as well as the relationship between coastal populations.(Davis-Marks,1).

In order to learn more about the wreck that was buried deep in the ocean researchers had to use a remote controlled vehicle to capture photos around the wreck.

Finding archaeological sites under water comes with a lot of challenges compared to above ground. For instance, the overall visibility and light conditions is much worse than when digging during the daytime. This also is affected by the actual depth of the site. Along with this, the artifacts are usually buried underneath layers of sediment and trying to remove this is very time consuming and can possible stir up all the sediment which can cause even more problems. In class, we have also talked about how expensive underwater work may be which can be a result of the sheer amount of time going by as well as the equipment needed in order to successfully reveal the artifacts.

More information on the shipwreck from youtube:

Finding all of these vessels shows us how important wine trading was to them.

At that time Sicily’s wine trade was one of the most profitable activities for entrepreneurs. There was even a Sicilian wine named Mamertino that was so popular Julius Caesar wanted it. The discovery of this shipwreck and what archaeologists were able to uncover shows us a period of peace and prosperity in the Mediterranean. Further research is being done in order to find more information about the specific trade routes that were used to transport all of these goods to different countries. Many ancient shipwrecks included items like these and archaeologists usually link these discoveries to wealth. In recent years, other shipwrecks have also been discovered showing similar items and now finding this brings in more information on the trading framework through out the Mediterranean Sea. “The Mediterranean continually gives us precious elements for the reconstruction of our history linked to maritime trade, the types of boats, the transport carried out,’’ said the superintendent of the sea of the Sicilian region, Valeria Li Vigni, who launched the expedition (Tondo,2). Many discoveries like this are being found in similar areas and this has been said to be one of the most significant in recent years.

More information on this topic:


(1) Davis-MarksMagazine, Smithsonian. “Ancient Roman Shipwreck Loaded with Wine Amphorae Found off Sicilian Coast.” Smithsonian.Com, Smithsonian Institution, 30 July 2021,

(2) Tondo, Lorenzo. “Ancient Roman Ship Laden with Wine Jars Discovered off Sicily.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 28 July 2021,

Post-humanism in Çatalhöyük

The flat ontology of the Neolithic society of Çatalhöyük gives us insight into the value of post-humanism as an archeological approach. Flat ontologies and post-humanism are interconnected frameworks that renounce anthropocentrism (Harris and Cipolla 2009). Flat ontologies reject the ranking of different beings, believing them to be all of equal importance. Post-humanism believes that we are not in opposition to nature and non-human animals. Instead, we must understand ourselves in relation to other animals and plants and understand them as beings of agency. While processualists are interested in the economic benefits of animals, post-processualism looks at the dynamic relationship between beings. Donna Haraway believes that we become humans with, rather than against, animals. Archeologists are beginning to grant plants and animals a different role in the past (Harris and Cipolla 2009, 169). Approaching archeology by looking for flat ontologies and applying post-humanist theory can help us gain a broader understanding of joint plant, animal, and human communities.

Figure 1. Stone figurines of animals in Çatalhöyük. Photograph from the Çatalhöyük Research Project.

Çatalhöyük’s burial grounds indicate that they were deeply interrelated with sheep. Çatalhöyük buried their dead in graves under their houses. When excavating, archeologists found a grave with a man and a lamb buried side by side in lot one-hundred and twelve on the North platform (Russel and Düring 2006). We know this burial was not a sacrifice because in Çatalhöyük, sacrificed animals did not have the same burial practices as humans and were never buried beside them. The burial of the lamb was very deliberate and indicates it had quasi-human status (figure 2). The lamb was placed on organic remnants believed to be a mat with their feet in the air. Burying the lamb in this position means their legs would have had to be held the entire time the soil was added. In Çatalhöyük, burial sites were often disturbed to bury more bodies. However, this grave was never disturbed. Sheep were not necessarily domesticated like other animals, and archeologists believed the man was a shepherd with a close relationship with the lamb. The crane dance and the burial at Çatalhöyük illustrate a dynamic relationship of reverence and respect for animals that challenges anthropocentrism.

Figure 2. Diagram of burial of lamb and human in Space 112. Diagram from Nerissa Russel and Bleda Düring.

Çatalhöyük’s burial grounds indicate that they were deeply interrelated with sheep. Çatalhöyük buried their dead in graves under their houses. When excavating, archeologists found a grave with a man and a lamb buried side by side in space one-hundred and twelve on the North platform (Russell and Düring 2006). We know this burial was not a sacrifice because in Çatalhöyük, sacrificed animals did not have the same burial practices as humans and were never buried beside them. The burial of the lamb was very deliberate and indicates it had quasi-human status (figure 2). The lamb was placed on organic remnants believed to be a mat with their feet in the air. Burying the lamb in this position means their legs would have had to be held the entire time the soil was added. In Çatalhöyük, burial sites were often disturbed to bury more bodies. However, this grave was never disturbed. Sheep were not necessarily domesticated like other animals, and archeologists believed the man was a shepherd with a close relationship with the lamb. The crane dance and the burial at Çatalhöyük illustrate a dynamic relationship of reverence and respect for animals that challenges anthropocentrism.

Further reading:


Ferrando, Francesca. 2016. “Humans Have Always Been Posthuman: A Spiritual Genealogy of Posthumanism.” In Springer eBooks, 243–56.

Gargett, Katrina. 2017. “Was There a Belief in the Mother Goddess at Çatalhöyük?” Çatalhöyük Research Project. September 13, 2017.

Harris, and Cipolla. 2007. “Multi-Species Archeology.” 2007.

Russell, Nerissa, and Bleda S. Düring. 2006. “Worthy Is the Lamb : A Double Burial at Neolithic Çatalhöyük (Turkey).” Paléorient 32 (1): 73–84.

Russell, Nerissa, and Kevin J. McGowan. 2003. “Dance of the Cranes: Crane Symbolism at Çatalhöyük and Beyond.” Antiquity 77 (297): 445–55.

Unearthing the Past of Notre Dame: Discoveries, Mysteries, and Elite Burials

After the devastating fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral in April 2019, INRAP (National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research) archaeologists were asked to help assess the damage and contribute to preservation efforts (Kuta 2022). The INRAP team’s task was to conduct a “preventative dig” beneath a portion of the cathedral floor from February to April 2020 (Willsher 2022). They had a tight schedule and a very specific excavation site to investigate in preparation for the construction of a 30-meter-high, 600-ton scaffold to restore the cathedral’s spire (Willsher 2022). Throughout the excavation and restoration process, two coffins, sculptures, statues, and the remains of original 13th century architecture were discovered (Kuta 2022).

Image of the excavated sarcophagi (Courtesy of Denis Gliksman/INRAP)

 Learn more about INRAP: 

The most intriguing and revealing discovery were the two lead sarcophagi. The sarcophagi were sent to the forensic institute at the Toulouse University hospital, where medical imaging equipment was used to study where they were from, their diets, and their cause of death (Kuta 2022). Eric Crubézy, a professor of biological anthropology at the University of Toulouse III, supervised the opening of the coffins and noted that both individuals were evidently significant figures in their respective time periods to receive burials in such prestigious tombs (Willsher 2022).

Image of archaeologists examining the floor of the Notre Dame Cathedral (Courtesy of Julien de Rosa/AFP/Getty Images)

One lead sarcophagus contained the remains of a man in his 30s and had no name plaque (Willsher 2022). The unidentified individual was likely a young and affluent noble from as early as the 14th century whose body was severely deteriorated due to air exposure (Willsher 2022). He has been referred to as “Le Cavalier” because his pelvic bones indicated he was a trained horseman (Willsher 2022). Alongside him in the sarcophagus, archaeologists found cloth and plant material, evidence of embalming, and a crown of flowers, signifying his elite status (Willsher 2022). His teeth showed significant damage, implying a struggle with a chronic disease, while a cranial deformation suggested that he had worn a headdress or headband in infancy (Willsher 2022). The unknown cavalier was buried at the foot of a large cross, a decorative divider that separated the clergy and choir from the rest of the congregation, further indicating his elite status (Willsher 2022).

A high priest who died in 1710 was identified in the second lead sarcophagus (Willsher 2022). Archaeologists were able to confirm who he was due to a brass plaque that stated his name was Antoine de la Porte (Willsher 2022). His body was also severely deteriorated due to oxygen entering the tomb and water exposure from the 1910 flooding of the Seine (Willsher 2022). Bones, head hair, beard hair and some textiles remained in his tomb (Kuta 2022). Antoine de la Porte was a wealthy and influential figure and a canon of the Notre Dame Cathedral who died on Christmas Eve in 1710 at the age of 83 (Willsher 2022). Crubézy explained that de la Porte had “extraordinary good teeth” and they were “remarkable for his age,” demonstrating that “he clearly cleaned his teeth and took care of them” (Willsher 2022). 

Image of the research site at the Notre Dame Cathedral (Courtesy of Julien de Rosa/AFP/Getty Images) 

Learn more about how the study of teeth contributes to archaeological discoveries:,%2C%20Diet%2C%20and%20Human%20Origins

Dominique Garcia, the president of INRAP, emphasized that the human remains would be handled with utmost respect throughout the research process (Willsher 2022). Ultimately, the Culture Ministry in Paris will be responsible for deciding what happens to the bodies (Willsher 2022). The intriguing discoveries that arose after the fire provide archaeologists with valuable insights into the people and the rich history intertwined with the Notre Dame Cathedral.


Kuta, Sarah. “Unraveling the Secrets of the Sarcophagi Found beneath Notre-Dame Cathedral.”, December 16, 2022.’s%20identity,INRAP.

Willsher, Kim. “Notre Dame’s Uncovered Tombs Start to Reveal Their Secrets.” The Guardian, December 9, 2022.

Recovering Mesoamerican Past: Repatriation of Monument 9

The plundering of culturally significant objects and treasure has been a prevalent issue for many years. Museums and private collectors for centuries have been taking the material culture of civilizations with no intention of returning them. Even to this day, it is not been uncommon to hear of nations condemning said institutions that are in possession of artifacts and remains that are culturally significant to them. Of course there have been some examples in recent years of repatriation, such as US art museums returning over 100 artifacts to Italy and Greece between 2005 and 2010 (La Follette 2016:670). However there is still the very prevalent issue of private collections, which is the very problem that Mexican officials face when recovering artifacts.

This is the stone structure known as Monument 9, believed to hold significance in rituals and act as a portal to the Underworld.

 Mexico, being the former center of many civilizations such as  the Olmec, Maya, and Aztecs, has an unimaginable amount of artifacts discovered and yet to be discovered. However, many of said artifacts are the targets of private collectors. One such example was “Monument 9: a 2,600-year-old carving in stone of a jaguar’s gaping face, roughly five feet wide and tall and weighing one ton” (Shortell 2023). The stone is believed to be dated from 800-400 BC or the Middle Preclassic period which is the highpoint of the Olmec site of Chalcatzingo where it was found (Exteriores 2023). Around 60 years ago the stone was looted from Chalcatzingo and brought to the United States, entering a network of private collections. The stone remained fascinating to scholars as it was believed to be used as a portal to the underworld for priests and rulers, however due to the stone’s absence and lack of pictures it was not readily studied (Stross 1996:85).  

The Chalcatzingo site where Monument 9 was found and subsequently looted from. It is an Olmec site south of Mexico City.

Not until recently were Mexican officials able to track down the stone and have it returned. “In March…U.S. authorities notified Mexican officials that they had seized the stone after tracking it to a warehouse in Denver. And in May the carving returned home in style, escorted by military vehicles from the airport in Cuernavaca, Mexico, to a nearby regional museum” (Shortell 2023). This is just one of many artifacts being returned to to Mexico in their repatriation campaign, aptly named “My Heritage is not for Sale”, where some 13,000 artifacts have been recovered since the campaign began in 2019.

The repatriation of these artifacts is incredibly important to Mexico’s culture. Every object returned is a piece of their rich history preserved. As successful as Mexico’s campaign is, there is still much to be done globally. Hopefully soon other nations will find success in their endeavors to recover the material culture that rightfully belongs to them.

Additional Reading on Repatriation:


Exteriores, S. de R. 2023. Chalcatzingo Monument 9 to be repatriated to Mexico. Retrieved from

Garcia, David Alire. 2023. Back in Mexico, “earth monster” sculpture points to ancient beliefs. Retrieved from

La Follette, Laetitia. 2016. Looted antiquities, art museums and restitution in the United States since 1970. Journal of Contemporary History, 52(3), 669–687. doi:10.1177/0022009416641198

Shortell, David, & Carrasquero, Marian. 2023. Stone by ancient stone, Mexico recovers its lost treasures. Retrieved from

Stross, Brian. (1996). The Mesoamerican Cosmic Portal: An early Zapotec example. Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics, 29–30, 82–101. doi:10.1086/resvn1ms20166944