The fire that destroyed big sections of the iconic cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris last April was a national catastrophe. Now, months on, scientists with the French national research study organization CNRS are embarking on a multimillion-euro effort to study the 850- year-old structure and its materials with the goal of illuminating how it was constructed. With unmatched access to the cathedral’s fabric– including wood, metalwork and the building’s structures– in the wake of the fire, researchers likewise hope that their work will arm them with details to assist the restoration.
The research could “write a brand-new page in the history of Notre-Dame, because there are presently many grey areas”, states Yves Gallet, a historian of Gothic architecture at the University of Bordeaux-Montaigne, who supervises of a 30- strong research study group investigating the masonry.
Construction of the cathedral, thought about among the finest examples of the French Gothic design, began in the twelfth century. The structure was customized in the Middle Ages and extensively brought back in the nineteenth century by the designer Eugène Viollet-Le-Duc. But it has actually been the subject of surprisingly little scientific research study, compared to other Gothic monuments in France and somewhere else, states Martine Regert, a biomolecular archaeologist at the CNRS’s CEPAM centre for the study of historical cultures and environments in Nice, who is among the Notre-Dame task’s leaders. Numerous concerns remain about the structure, such as which areas are middle ages and whether Viollet-Le-Duc reused a few of the older materials, says Regert.
The fire on 15 April, perhaps brought on by an electrical fault, destroyed the cathedral’s roofing and spire, and caused part of its vaulted ceiling to collapse. The walls still stand, and the structure will become brought back– although this is most likely to take longer than the ambitious five years initially forecast, and is set to cost hundreds of millions of euros.
However until then, the interior of the structure holds stacks of particles: fallen stonework, burnt timbers and harmed metal artefacts, all now offered for scientific research study. The lack of travelers might likewise make it possible to utilize radar imaging to penetrate the structures, which have been little investigated. Even some parts of the structure that were largely intact are now more available for inspection, states Philippe Dillmann, an expert on historical metal artefacts at the CNRS Laboratory for Archaeomaterials and Change Forecasting in Gif-sur-Yvette, who is coordinating the project with Regert.
Archaeology Architectural investigations
The CNRS task will focus on seven topics: masonry, wood, metalwork, glass, acoustics, digital information collection and anthropology. In all, the effort will involve more than 100 researchers in 25 laboratories and will last for 6 years.
Gallet’s team will study Notre-Dame’s stones to determine the quarries that supplied them and “rebuild the supply networks and the economy of the site”. Studying the mortar used to bind the stones together could reveal how various structures were utilized for the different structural elements– rising, walls and flying buttresses. The mortar utilized lime prepared from sedimentary limestone, which might consist of fossil residues that might expose where it stemmed. A much better knowledge of the historical products could inform options made in restoration, states Gallet.
The team will likewise evaluate weak points in the remaining structure caused by the heats of the fire, the fall of masonry and the water utilized to extinguish the flames. Damage to the stones was intensified last July by extreme heat waves in Paris, which “completely dried” and deteriorated the masonry, states Gallet. A radar study will figure out how solid the structures are before conservators put up scaffolding in the crossing between the nave and the transept to enable them to take apart the unsteady remnants of the nineteenth-century spire.
And with the aid of historians, Gallet’s team wishes to acquire a much deeper understanding of the structural engineering of Gothic architecture as an entire, and Notre-Dame’s location because story.
Archaeology Out of the ashes
Meanwhile, a team of about 50 will focus on Notre-Dame’s popular woodwork– particularly the ‘forest’ of lumbers in the roof space above the vaults– which has either burnt away or lies charred in the nave. These blackened remains might be enormously valuable to researchers.
” The charred structure constitutes a massive lab for archaeology,” states Alexa Dufraisse, an archaeologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, who will lead the multidisciplinary wood team. The group will consist of archaeologists, historians, dendrochronologists, biogeochemists, climatologists, carpenters, foresters and engineers focusing on wood mechanics.
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” Wood is a remarkable source of details,” says Regert. Preliminary observations have validated that the ‘forest’ is made from oak, however studies will identify the specific species used and provide researchers ideas about the strategies and tools of middle ages timber construction.
Tree-ring dating of lumber beams might reveal the year and location in which the trees were dropped, filling out gaps in understanding about the sequence of construction. “Each tree records within its tissues the environment in which it has grown,” says Dufraisse. This sort of research study “could never have been carried out without the damage of the structure by fire”, she states.
In specific, says Regert, the wood is an environment archive. “Isotopic analyses of oxygen and carbon in the rings make it possible to identify the temperature level and rains with time,” she says. The trees used in Notre-Dame grew between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, throughout a warm duration understood as the medieval climate optimum, offering a reference period for natural environment warming to compare to anthropogenic warming today. “This period is inadequately known because woods of that time is uncommon,” says Dufraisse.
Archaeology Metal and masonry
A different group will examine the cathedral’s metalwork– in particular that used to support the stone and woodwork. “We want to comprehend making use of iron armatures in the various building and remediation phases,” states archaeologist Maxime L’Héritier of the University of Paris 8, who will lead the research study. Metal rods, for instance, were utilized to support areas of masonry under tension, and medieval builders often placed iron chains into the stonework to reinforce it. L’Héritier says that there has actually never ever in the past been a study of modifications in making use of iron in cathedral structure over such an extended period, from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century.
His group will also study the lead from the roof– much of which was harmed or melted in the fire. The researchers intend to establish a chemical referral data set that records the ratios of lead isotopes and the existence of micronutrient in the material, “to comprehend the advancement of lead quality and supply”– for instance, to recognize the mines from which the metal came. The group likewise wishes to examine how much lead was recycled when the roof was brought back in the 19th century. These results might likewise make it possible for researchers to exercise how much lead the fire launched into the environment– a prospective health hazard for the instant vicinity.
Archaeology Access all areas?
Collecting and excavating the materials for analysis is challenging. There are three main stacks of particles– in the nave, the crossing and the north transept– in addition to material still on top of the remaining vaults. But these are presently off-limits to people for security reasons, Dillmann states– so robots and drones should do all the collecting. A few of this product might eventually be recycled in restoration.
” The very first obstacle is to collect all wooden components, despite their level of carbonization,” says Dillmann. Up until now, he states, nearly 1,000 fragments have been gathered and labelled– however the work is just starting. Dufraisse states that this wood won’t be available to scientists for at least another 3 months, due to the fact that it is currently too polluted with lead. Researchers will require to calibrate how chemical signatures in the wood have actually been modified by the high temperatures of the fire. “I know we are going to be faced with technical problems, but I stay positive,” states Dufraisse.
The collection and analysis will require to be recorded exactly and completely. Livio de Luca, an expert in digital mapping of architecture, at the CNRS’s Mixed Research study System in Marseille will lead a team committed to creating a “digital environment” that summarizes both the scientific research and the existing and previous states of the cathedral, making use of the work of scientists, historians, archaeologists, engineers and curators– and possibly even on old traveler pictures of the structure.
” It will resemble a ‘digital twin’ of the cathedral, able to evolve as the studies development,” de Luca states. It will consist of online models for 3D visualization of the structure and its qualities– a sort of Google Earth for Notre-Dame, produced from billions of data points, with the history and evolution of the structure superimposed on the spatial map.
As well as deepening our understanding of this monumental structure, Regert hopes that the clinical research studies will be useful when its wrecked vaults rise again. The outcomes, she says, might “brighten the options that society will need to make for the restoration”. She hopes, too, that they might assist to prevent such a devastating accident from happening again.
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