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Charlemagne's 1,200-year-old bones are likely the real deal

After 26 years of analysis, German researchers conclude that "with great likelihood" they've been dealing with the skeleton of Charles the Great.

A statue of Charlemagne in front of Aachen's town-hall on the 1,200th anniversary of his death.
Patrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty Images

Charlemagne, otherwise known as Charles the Great and the "Father of Europe," was said to have been a tall, thin man with a slight gait to his walk. He reigned over Western Europe from 800 A.D. to 814 A.D., and the region was definitively empowered by his rule.

His bones have long been on display at a treasury in Aachen Cathedral in Germany. While historians have questioned whether the displayed bones were really those of Charlemagne, new research shows they could be authentic, according to The Local.

It's said that when Charlemagne died in his 70s -- 1,200 years ago -- he was buried beneath the Aachen Cathedral. Throughout the centuries, various emperors were said to have opened his tomb and buried him again in more elaborate caskets. It's also said that his bones were dispersed throughout several reliquaries. Today, however, it's believed the majority of his remains are within the treasury in Aachen.

On the 1,200th anniversary of Charlemagne's death last week, researchers from the Centre of Evolutionary Medicine at the University of Zurich confirmed that after 26 years of analysis they believe the displayed bones are those of the Father of Europe.

Since 1988, the researchers have been secretly analyzing 94 bones and bone fragments believed to have belonged to Charlemagne. The once-entombed bones all appear to come from the same person -- a man who was 6 feet tall with a slim body mass index. Such height was very unusual in the 800s.

As for the limp in his walk, researchers found kneecap and heel bone deposits that indicate a possible injury. The researchers also concluded that the bones belonged to a man who was in old age when he died. While it's said that Charlemagne died of pneumonia, researchers couldn't find any clues to this illness within the buried bones.

Despite some inconsistencies, like the pneumonia, the researchers seem optimistic that the bones in Aachen are Charlemagne's.

"Thanks to the results from 1988 up until today, we can say with great likelihood that we are dealing with the skeleton of Charlemagne," researcher Frank Rühli said, according to The Local.