Archaeologists lose Charlemagne’s tomb

After the fall of the Roman Empire, he was the first to reunite Western Europe. He ruled a vast kingdom that encompassed what is now France, Germany, Italy, Austria, and the Low Countries. The Pope even crowned him Emperor of the Romans. But while Charlemagne is famous around the world, very little is known about the real man.

There’s always been an air of mystery about Charlemagne, who ruled the Carolingian Empire from 800-814 AD. Historians aren’t sure where or when he was born, or who his siblings were. They can’t even agree on his native language.

Now it turns out he may never have been buried in his tomb.

Archaeologists studying the atrium of the Aachen Cathedral, Charlemagne’s traditional resting place, can’t find any evidence he was buried there. The oldest artifacts they found date to the 13th century. They weren’t expecting to find his bones, because a later ruler put them in the cathedral shrine, but they hoped to find some of his personal belongings or the original coffin to prove he’d been buried there.

This won’t stop Aachen cathedral from remaining popular for history junkies visiting Germany. The UNESCO World Heritage Site not only has Charlemagne’s bones, but also his throne and bragging rights for being the oldest cathedral in northern Europe. Once every seven years the priests bring out the cathedral’s collection of artifacts: the cloak of St. Mary, Christ’s swaddling clothes and loincloth, and the cloth that held the head of St. John the Baptist. Unfortunately you’ll have to wait until 2014 to see them again. Maybe by then archaeologists can tell us where Charlemagne was originally put to rest.