Archaeologists find preserved hearts in 400-year-old urns

In the ruins of a medieval convent in the French city of Rennes, archaeologists have discovered five heart-shaped urns made of lead, each containing an embalmed human heart
Archaeologists find preserved hearts in 400-year-old urns
A heart-shaped lead urn with an inscription as the heart of Toussaint Perri


“Every heart was different and revealed its share of surprises,” anthropologist Rozenn Colleter of the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research said on Wednesday. “Four of these hearts are very well preserved. It is very rare in archaeology to work on organic materials. The prospects are very exciting.”
Sick at heart
One heart appeared healthy, with no evidence of disease. Three others showed indications of disease, atherosclerosis, with plaque in the coronary arteries. The fifth was poorly preserved. “Only one heart belonged to a woman, and was totally degraded, permitting no study,” said radiologist Dr. Fatima-Zohra Mokrane of Rangueil Hospital at the University Hospital of Toulouse. 
Nobleman and wife
One of the hearts belonged to a nobleman identified by an inscription on the urn as Toussaint Perrien, Knight of Brefeillac, who died in 1649. His heart had been removed upon his death and was later buried with his wife, Louise de Quengo, Lady of Brefeillac, who died in 1656. Her wonderfully preserved body was found in a coffin at the site, still wearing a cape, wool dress, bonnet and leather shoes with cork soles.
Modern day disease
The earliest of the urns was dated 1584. The latest was dated 1655. It turns out three of the embalmed hearts bore tell-tale signs of atherosclerosis, a heart disease very common today. It is a disease in which plaque made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substances builds up inside the arteries. Plaque hardens over time and narrows the arteries. Atherosclerosis can trigger heart attacks and strokes. “Atherosclerosis is not only a recent pathology, because it was found in different hearts studied,” Mokrane said.
Archaeologists excavated the Jacobins convent in Rennes from 2011 to 2013. It was constructed in 1369 and became an important pilgrimage and burial site from the 15th to 17th centuries. About 800 graves were found, Colleter said. The research was presented at a meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago.

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