Knights Templar Tomb Discovered in France: Lakehead's Paleo DNA Assists in Identification

(May 5, 2008 – Thunder Bay, ON) A hidden tomb in the mountains of the Languedoc region of southwest France has the archaeological community buzzing, and Lakehead University’s Paleo DNA Laboratory has played a role in creating that buzz.

Lakehead University will be part of the panel at a media conference today in New York City to talk about the discovery.

The remote site holds a mummified corpse under a shroud which bears the distinct red cross of the Knights Templar.  It lies on a rose-colored plinth, surrounded by wooden chests, some open and revealing a cache of gold chalices and coins.  This unprecedented discovery – what appears to be an intact Knight’s Templar burial – will be revealed in the documentary film Bloodline, which premieres in U.S. theatres in May 2008.

Bloodline Director Bruce Burgess explains there were rumours dating back to the end of the 13th Century Crusades which indicated the Templars had excavated beneath the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, and on returning to France, had hidden some priceless relics in the area south of Carcassonne.  “The relics – possibly documents, and even the embalmed remains of Jesus and Mary Magdalene – have all been speculation until now,” Burgess says, and adds that “Thanks to this discovery, all that may soon change.”

The discovery of the tomb has been officially reported to the French Government, and plans for a full-scale excavation are under way.  In providing some historical background on the issue, Bloodline Producer René Barnett states “When the French King ordered the arrest of the Templars and the seizure of their assets in 1307, very little of their gold, treasure, or relics were ever found. Many historians and scholars believe these items were buried in various secret locations in the Languedoc.”

So far, access to the tomb has been restricted to a small air shaft, down which the film team has sent a remote camera.  No relics have been removed from the tomb, but hair follicles extracted from the skull of the mummy have been tested for mitochondrial DNA by Lakehead University’s DNA experts.  "Like most ancient or degraded samples, we knew our best chance for successful results would be to focus our efforts on mitochondrial DNA,” says Paleo DNA Laboratory Operations Supervisor Renee Fratpietro.  “Lakehead’s Paleo DNA Lab specializes in amplifying short overlapping segments of DNA using our state-of-the-art contamination-controlled environment.”  The facility is designed to ensure the integrity of results produced, and is thus sought after for such cases where DNA quantities are low and require amplification by a factor of a million times.  “Once we obtained genetic information from the DNA amplification,” adds Fratpietro, “we were able to determine the Middle Eastern maternal origins of the individual based on haplotyping information.  The whole process took about three weeks.  It wasn't until after we found out from where this hair sample came that we realized the significance of this work."

"This is certainly a very intriguing discovery,” says Commissioner of Archaeology for the DRAC, the Ministry of Culture and Communication in the Languedoc-Roussillon area Jean-Pierre Giraud.  “However, it's just too early to tell how important it is. We need to do a full survey of the site to determine the age of the corpse and the other items in the tomb. The archaeology department of the DRAC-LR will carry out an examination of the site as soon as access is made possible.” 


Media: Project Co-Investigator and Paleo DNA Technical Manager Steve Fratpietro, as well as Bloodline Producer Rene Barnett, are available for media interview.  To arrange interview times, please contact Communications Officer Heather Scott at 807-343-8177,; or Director of Communications Eleanor Abaya at 807-343-8372,    

About Lakehead University and the Paleo DNA Laboratory
Lakehead is a comprehensive University with a reputation for innovative programs and cutting-edge research.  The Paleo DNA Laboratory is a leader in human mitochondrial DNA analysis.  The only Canadian university laboratory accredited by ISO17025 for forensic DNA testing, it is known for its commitment to education, research, services, training, quality assurance and control standards, and reliable results.  Established in 1996, it was the first to offer a DNA training course emphasizing mitochondrial DNA analysis, and one of the first Canadian laboratories to develop mitochondrial DNA analysis techniques.  On May 5, 2008, students from across the globe will travel to Thunder Bay to receive specialized training in mitochondrial DNA methods.  Lakehead University’s Paleo-DNA Laboratory is the only facility in the world that offers this training program.   For more information on Lakehead’s Paleo DNA Laboratory, please visit

Last updated May 05, 2008

News RSS Feed Stay Informed - Subscribe to our RSS Feed