Bone is a cat's, and fabric is the right age but dyed and not burned
By Christian Panvert in Chinon, France
Published: 17 December 2006

One of the most tantalising studies in forensic science appears to have ended in disappointment. The preliminary conclusion by a team of experts trying to determine whether a rib bone and a piece of cloth were the remains of Joan of Arc is that the items are probably not connected to the 15th century French heroine.

Six months after beginning their still uncompleted research, the experts believe there is "relatively little chance" the remnants were actually hers, said Philippe Charlier, who heads the team.

The fragment of cloth, linen from the 15th century, "wasn't burned. It was dyed," Charlier said yesterday. And a blackened substance around the 15cm (6in) rib bone and the femur of a cat were not "carbonised remains" but correspond, instead, to vegetable and mineral debris, "something that rather resembles embalming substance".

Legend has it that 19-year-old Joan's remains were scattered in the Seine River after she was burned to death on 30 May 1431 in the Normandy town of Rouen following her trial. However, a fragment of rib bone covered in a black substance, a cat's femur and a fragment of cloth were reportedly found at the site by an unidentified person. They were then conserved by an apothecary until 1867, before being turned over to the archdiocese of Tours. Today, the remains are conserved at a museum of the Association of Friends of Old Chinon.

In 1909, scientists declared it "highly probable" that the remains were those of Joan of Arc. Given developments in genetic technology in recent years, the researchers decided to try again.

However, said Charlier, "We're now moving toward the hypotheses of a fake relic or of a relic that was transformed. It could be that these are human remains of the 15th century subjected to a sort of embalming or protection as happened when relics were manipulated," he said. "But we know, in any event, that Joan was not embalmed."

The cat femur just confuses matters. For some, it lends weight to the notion of a hoax or a fake relic. However, other historians say that throwing a cat or another animal representing the devil on to a pyre is credible, Charlier said. The scientist stressed that full results are not yet in, such as carbon-14 dating and additional genetic tests to determine the sex of the individual, and of the cat.