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Mummified Head Found In Attic May Belong To French King Assassinated 400 Years Ago

A rotting skull stirs up debate in France.

Posted on February 18, 2013, at 2:44 p.m. ET

HO / Reuters

The mummified skull attributed to French King Henri IV, distributed by the British Medical Journal in December 2010.

In 2008, two Frenchmen tracked a mummified head believed to belong to King Henri IV to Jacques Bellanger, a local tax collector. Bellanger reportedly purchased the skull in the 1950s for 5,000 francs from a woman who bought it at a Paris auction house in the early 1900s.

What is believed to be the head of former French King Henry IV pictured in the 1930s.

A new book by Stéphane Gabet and Philippe Charlier, the team that tracked the skull to Bellanger, details the moment Bellanger uncovered the skull in a box in his attic:

Inside, there was something wrapped in an old towel. Jacques Bellanger folded back one side of the towel, then the other. The mummified head appeared, well conserved, impressive. It was a magic moment.

HO / Reuters

Digital reconstruction of the complete face, from December 2010.

King Henri IV was assassinated in 1610, at age 57. The head was apparently lost in the French Revolution, when royal graves were vandalized.

Despite some pathology experts' insistence that the skull's DNA is consistent with Henri IV descendant Louis XVI's "genetic heritage," the new book has reignited a long debate over the skull's authenticity.

HO / Reuters

The skull's (A) nasal naevus, (B) pierced right ear lobe, (C) post-trauma maxillary bone lesion, (D) grey scalp deposit, (E) red moustache, and (F) red hairs.

In 2010, a team of researchers confirmed the authors' research, announcing that the skull in Bellanger's attic indeed belonged to Henri. Their giveaways included his facial hair pattern, a large beauty spot, broken nose, and knife wound from an assassination attempt.

But critics say that these common traits don't constitute proof. They also argue that the brain was still present, when it would have been removed during his royal burial.

LOIC VENANCE / Getty Images

Another reconstruction image, from February 2013.

It's not just scientists bickering over the head. The Duke of Anjou, Prince Louis de Bourbon, has said he wants to see the head returned to Henri's burial site. But the Duke of France and Count of Paris, Henri d'Orléans, called the new book a "pseudo inquiry" and "closer to a novel than scientific or historic truth."

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.