Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake when
she was only 19-years-old [AFP]
Ancient remains supposedly belonging to the 15th century French heroine, Joan of Arc, are in fact those of an Egyptian mummy, a team of international researchers has revealed.

The remains consisting of a rib bone, a piece of cloth and a cat femur, were said to have been recovered after Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431, aged just 19, in the town of Rouen in Normandy.

The relics were found in 1867 in a jar in the attic of a Paris pharmacy, bearing the inscription, "Remains found under the stake of Joan of Arc, Maid of Orleans."

In 1909, the year Joan of Arc was beatified, scientists declared it "highly probable" that the remains were hers.

But in an investigation that began last year, a team of 20 researchers from France, Switzerland and Benin re-examined the relics and were surprised to find that the rib bone came from an Egyptian mummy.

"They are mummified remains of Egyptian origin dated to [Egypt's] Late Period," Philippe Charlier, the scientist leading the team, said on Wednesday.

One theory is that the remains were faked in the 19th century, possibly to smooth the process of Joan of Arc's beatification. She went on to be canonised as a saint in 1920.

Charlier said another theory could be that a 19th century apothecary was behind the fake, and transformed "these remains of an Egyptian mummy into a fake relic, or fake historic remains, of Joan of Arc".

In medieval times and later, powdered mummy remains were used as medicine, "to treat stomach ailments, long or painful periods, all blood problems", Charlier said.

Tests dated the bone to between the 7th and 3rd centuries BC, he said.

The cat bone dated from the same period and was also mummified. They also found pollen of pines, probably from resin used in Egyptian embalming.

But they were unable to extract DNA from the remains, meaning they could not identify the sex of the mummy.

Sniffing around

During the research perfumers were called upon by the scientists.

The researchers had them sniff the remains, using their exceptional olfactory senses "so they could identify the smells, the vegetable matter in the embalming and guide our research", Charlier said.

The study does not invalidate the existence of Joan of Arc, whose brief life, trial and death in fact is one of the most well-documented episodes in medieval history and remains a subject of scholarly debate.

Initially a figurehead who revealed herself as a true military leader, Joan led the French armies in lifting the English siege of Orleans in 1429, the first of a chain of swift victories that ended with the coronation of Charles VII.

Wounded in the battle for Paris, she was captured and sold to the English, to be convicted of heresy and burned at the stake.

The body was ordered to be burned twice more, and the ashes cast into the River Seine, in order to prevent any relics being seized.

Source: Agencies