Mystery Woman Found in a Lead Coffin
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
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.
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.
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 (ca. 1680), she would have been the most socially prominent woman in the colony.
The infant buried next to her was probably the child of her husband and Jane Sewell, the woman he married after Anne Calvert died. DNA analysis confirms this to be the son of Philip Calvert.
What Anne Calvert's Skeleton Tells Us
Our ability to read the "lives" in skeletons is constantly growing. We have many new technologies and methods for analyzing bone. Skeletal inspections and CT scans reveal the health of Anne Calvert, the first wife of Philip Calvert. A severe overriding fracture in the midshaft of the bone made her right leg shorter than the left. A large draining sinus formed in the bone after the break and persisted throughout the rest of her life. This injury would have affected how she walked and would have occasionally kept her in bed.
Forensic facial reconstruction reveals her likeness. Combined with her health information, the video below shows how Anne Calvert might have looked in life and how her injuries and subsequent skeletal changes would have affected her posture and gait.
Video: Meet Anne Calvert
Skeletal CT scans and forensic facial reconstruction of Anne Wolseley Calvert, reveal the health and likeness of 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 (ca. 1680), Anne Calvert would have been the most socially prominent woman in Maryland. Design, photography and animation by Smithsonian Staff. (This video is silent.)