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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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In 1992, archaeologists opened a narrow, lead-covered coffin to find well-preserved remains of a woman strewn with rosemary sprigs. Her coffin lay between a larger lead coffin holding the remains of a man, and a small lead coffin, holding the remains of an infant.


 

Privileged Yet Vulnerable

left and right femurs
Misaligned, healed fracture of the right femur. Learn More. Image courtesy: Smithsonian Institution

In England, she would have been royal or a noblewoman. In America, her burial in a lead coffin could only mean that she must have been quite important in the colony. But no grave markers, name plates, or church records existed to identify her. Many questions remained to be answered about her.

Despite her obvious prestige, this woman had not been well long before her death. Here was a woman, at least 60, who had lived longer than many colonists. Had she been in Maryland for much of her life? Carbon-isotope testing of her bone could determine whether she had eaten a mainly wheat- or corn-based diet. The results indicated that she was born in England but lived in Maryland for an extended period.

Smithsonian forensic anthropologists Douglas Owsley and Kari Bruwelheide examine the burial
Smithsonian forensic anthropologists Douglas Owsley and Kari Bruwelheide examine the burial. Image courtesy: Smithsonian Institution

Evidence at the Scene

Whoever buried her took great care. Silk ribbon was wrapped around her wrist bones, tying her hands together over the pelvis and securing her feet. There was evidence of linen shroud fibers and copper staining. The rosemary sprigs, symbols of remembrance, were probably intended to mask odors. The lead-sheathed wooden coffin weighed 500 pounds.

Learn more about the
examination of the lead coffins.

The Weight of the Evidence

By using all the available evidence, investigators determined the identity of the woman in the lead coffin. She was Anne Wolseley Calvert, the first wife of Philip Calvert. He had come to America in 1657 and served as chancellor and governor of Maryland. At the time of her death, she would have been the most socially prominent woman in the colony. Meet Anne Calvert

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