French museum has 'probably' found remains of philosopher Montaigne

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A scientific team examines the grave in the basement of the Musee d'Aquitaine in Bordeaux

A French museum said Wednesday that a tomb opened this week in an unprecedented operation "probably" contains the remains of the great 16th-century philosopher Michel de Montaigne, but that further tests are needed to be sure.

The Musee d'Aquitaine in the southwestern city of Bordeaux extracted the tomb from a basement of the museum, which occupies the premises of a convent where Montaigne, famed for his lofty but highly readable "Essays", was buried.

Local authorities had announced a year ago that human remains had been discovered in the basement of the museum, which also houses Montaigne's cenotaph as one of its exhibits.

This prompted the painstaking operation to discover whether the remains inside the tomb belonged to Montaigne, one of the city's most famous sons, and who served as its mayor from 1581 to 1585.

"We are probably in the presence of Michel de Montaigne," the museum's director Laurent Vedrine said after the opening of the tomb earlier this week.

"The historical and archeological indications make us believe that we are on the right track. I think so, but we are not sure. We need to check," he said.

The opening of the tomb revealed a wooden coffin with the word "Montaigne" written in large brown letters.

The coffin itself also contained a lead container in which a special camera was able to detect a femur, a pelvic bone and a skull, said Helene Reveillas, an archaeologist for the city.

Now a team of a dozen scientists from different disciplines will analyse the stone of the tomb, the wood of the coffin and the human remains.

Tests should also be able to determine the age and sex of the person and see if there are signs of kidney stones, which the philosopher is known to have suffered from.

There has long been confusion over the location of the remains of de Montaigne, after the body was shifted between numerous sites after his death in 1592 at the age of 59.

A scientific team examines the grave in the basement of the Musee d'Aquitaine in Bordeaux

The cenotaph of French philosopher Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) is an exhibit in the Musee d'Aquitaine in Bordeaux