Bloodline: Fact or Fiction?

Media awareness has been spreading for the controversial new documentary Bloodline, which claims to present new evidence that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, had children and moved to Southern France, where they died and were buried. Its context is the mystery surrounding the small village of Rennes-le-Chateau and its abbe during the late 19th Century, Berenger Sauniere and what he may have discovered in the surrounding region. As the former mayor of RLC put it, the mystery is that when Sauniere arrived at RLC he was dirt poor, when he died he was just as poor, but during that period he spent enormous amounts of money on the lavish, idiosyncratic redecoration of the town parish, building a tower called 'Tour Magdala' and the extravagant entertainment of guests (this is important, because spending lots of money is different than actually having lots of money; Sauniere was a big spender but he didn't necessarily become very rich). The source of Sauniere's money is what fuels the imagination of conspiracy theorists, treasure hunters and esotericists: had he discovered some great treasure in the region which allowed him to sustain such an extravagant lifestyle? Or had he uncovered a secret so powerful that the Vatican paid him off handsomely to keep it under wraps? This last theory is the one which Bloodline advances based on some interesting new evidence (for a full catalogue of the theories which have been put forward about Sauniere's findings, see here).

What are we to make of this documentary? First of all the critical evaluation of the documentary's claims is made extremely difficult due to the sheer number of claims, suggestions and arguments put forward. It is hard to keep all the different strands of the story separate: contact with alleged members of the Priory of Sion, Sauniere's strange behavior, new looks at locations like the Rosslyn Chapel familiar from the Da Vinci Code, the discoveries of a team of treasure hunters led by Ben Hammott, questions about the historical Jesus and his relationship to Mary Magdalene, etc. To my mind the most interesting and substantial claims of the documentary have to do with the discovery of a tomb near RLC and the unearthing of bottles containing notes allegedly left by Sauniere as his 'confession' of a great secret, so I will focus on these in this post.

It is important to note from the start that anyone who tries to get the facts straight about Sauniere, the activities of the alleged secret society of the Priory of Sion, the suspicious activities of the Knights Templar or whether Jesus and Mary Magdalene fostered a bloodline will very quickly become trapped in a maze of assertions, speculation, ad hominems, articles based on very dubious sources and accusations thrown back and forth by the advocates of the various opposing theories about the origin of Sauniere's wealth, which however are all equally dubious. Even the circumstances surrounding Ben Hammott's discoveries are hotly debated, despite the fact that he has operated a website advertising his discoveries for some time now, and the media attention the documentary has been getting.

So what are the facts of the case? Ben Hammott (aka Bill Wilkinson), a treasure hunter, claims that by following certain clues left in the artwork decorating Sauniere's rebuilt chapel at RLC, he found his way to an underground tomb containing a shrouded body, chests of what appear to be gold chalices and a cloth bearing the Star of David (his version of these discoveries is given here). By following yet other clues he was able to unearth bottles containing papers signed by the priest himself, revealing information about the location of yet more bottles and finally, at the end of the trail, a wooden chest allegedly containing the cup used by Jesus and Mary Magdalene at their wedding as well as her alabastar anointing jar. Hammott believes that the tomb he discovered contains the remains of Mary Magdalene, and that the red cross on the burial shroud indicates the activity of the Knights Templar. If the information on the papers is accurate, the priest found the tomb and the chest, and these discoveries caused him to renounce his faith. Why? One of the papers containing the purported confession of Sauniere's loss of faith, which was shown on ABC's Good Morning America has the following written on it:

"The resurrection of Jesus was a trick, it was Mary Magdalene that took his body from the tomb, the disciples were fooled. Later...the body of Jesus was discovered by the Templars and then hidden three times...Rome knows all about this, but they can not afford to let the secret be known...they threatened to kill...if the location of the tomb was revealed..."

It is this claim, of course, more than any other associated with the Bloodline documentary, which is most relevant to Christian faith. The discovery that Jesus was married, or that Mary Magdalene traveled to Southern France and was buried there, is interesting historically but hardly of earth-shattering significance. If we had reliable sources to indicate that the resurrection was a hoax, however, orthodox Christian faith would be in ruins. Worse than that, however, it would show that there was actual malice and intentional deception perpetrated by the person whom people remember as the first witness to Jesus's resurrection.

So the question is, what reasons do we have to believe that Sauniere found good information to this effect? As it turns out, very few. Almost every step involved in these 'discoveries' has been ruthlessly questioned, and the answers from those involved have been far from convincing (see the vigorous back-and-forth that takes place on this forum; be warned, though, the exchanges are often very unpleasant and it is easy to get lost in the myriad speculations). We'll leave aside procedural questions about whether Ben Hammott had the right to remove artifacts from French soil, etc., as the main issue is the authenticity and significance of the finds themselves.

The analysis done by the Bloodline team (which includes director Bruce Burgess, Ben Hammott, Sandy Hamblett and Bill Kersey) to establish the authenticity of these artifacts was very superficial. They hired a professional archeologist, Gabriel Barkay, to confirm that the relics found in the wooden chest date from the 1st Century CE, and also found in the chest was a collection of coins dating from the 2nd Century BCE to the 12th Century. The problem is that such artifacts are relatively easy to purchase from a variety of sources, so we have no way of knowing where these items ultimately come from. We have no information about who brought them to Southern France and why. If we rule out the possibility that they were deliberately planted there recently as part of a hoax, all we can say is that it may be the stash of some crusader returned to France from the Middle East. But we have no evidence one way or another. Another piece of 'evidence' which the Bloodline team present is that families connected to the Priory of Sion and the bloodline of Jesus have 'confirmed' that these are the relics of Jesus and Mary's marriage (Bloodline website, News, February 6 2007). But this is really no evidence at all as the Priory of Sion at least in its modern form as popularized by Dan Brown was actually a modern hoax (see also here) and without independent evidence for a genuine bloodline (something which the team does NOT provide) we cannot simply take their word for it. The Bloodline team have received hundreds of emails from individuals claiming to be the descendants of Jesus and Mary, complete with psychic powers, celestial secrets, etc.

There are problems associated with the tomb itself. So far nobody knows exactly where it is. All the public has been presented with is some video footage (here and here) taken by Ben Hammott on several different occasions. There are some discrepancies in the footage, including an object which seems to have moved farther away from another one in between takes (compare still shots here). Ben Hammott moved the burial shroud enough to extract a hair from the corpse, which was sent to the Paleo-DNA lab in Canada (the same institution contacted to do patina analysis for the Jesus Family Tomb documentary) and they confirmed a maternal Middle Eastern descent of the corpse. This has been blown way out of proportion by the Bloodline team. The find only means that this individual, who has not been dated or had its sex confirmed, inherited DNA from a Middle Eastern haplotype group somewhere in its ancestry. It does not (necessarily) mean that this person was actually Middle Eastern, i.e. had Middle Eastern parents.

Another problem is that the Bloodline website published a quote from Jean-Pierre Giraud from the DRAC (the archeological body in France responsible for finds in the region), alleging that the French authorities have been made aware of this find and that plans are underway for a full investigation of the tomb. The problem is that others who contacted DRAC found out that the officials had only seen the same footage shown in the documentary and were asked for a quote. There are no official plans for investigation whatsoever, and Giraud no longer works for DRAC. This is a serious credibility problem which has not been adequately addressed by the Bloodline team. So the fact remains that we have no idea where the tomb is or who might be inside it. In any case, the Sauniere papers do not mention anything about the tomb of Mary Magdalene and they did not contain information leading to the discovery of the tomb (at least as far as we know-the full content of the papers is being very unprofessionally held back until Hammott's book is published).

What of the papers themselves? The sober truth of the matter is that these are in all likelihood modern forgeries. The difficulties which many different observers have noticed with the papers are many and serious. They are written in a garish red ink which resembles the trace of a felt-tip pen. The writing style is a childish print which looks nothing like Sauniere's elegant cursive writing, and the strokes more resemble contemporary Anglophone handwriting than 19th Century French (see the comments by archeologist Keith Matthews here and here). The papers are riddled with strange mistakes in the French grammar and syntax which are very unlikely to have been made by a native speaker. The priest's signature on one of the papers has several mistakes which would probably not have been made by the person whose signature it was. A professor of French linguistics who was contacted to analyze some of the documents concluded that:

-the documents might not all be from the same hand
-there are probably bogus attempts in the documents to create medieval-sounding words
-the style of French and the various linguistic oddities are "consonant with somebody who was not particularly educated and who is trying to write in a deliberately rather strange style," or even "compatible with something having been dictated, or written by somebody who, whilst a native speaker, and thus fluent in the spoken language, may not have had much familiarity with the rules of writing."

These observations make it highly unlikely that these papers were written down by a well-educated French priest who left behind many elegantly written letters in a flowing cursive style. But comments the linguistics professor made on another of the papers are far more damning:

"Regarding the third document in particular, my suspicion is that what you have here is a deliberately constructed representation of what the writer perceives this sort of document to be like, and designed to convince the unsuspecting that it is somehow authentic because it is obscure, badly written, and at times almost gibberish; or written by somebody who, with the best will in the world, was simply not capable of doing any better...I think that the entire document has been deliberately concocted, not so much to fool people, necessarily, as to create a spurious pseudo-archaizing and pseudo-mystical framework. I think it is unlikely, although possible, but in the case of the third document it has been put together by a non-native speaker who was so incompetent in French that they made a complete mess of the syntax." (my emphasis)

Shorn from its academic politeness and diplomacy, what this tells us is that at least one of the papers is a badly concocted forgery produced by someone who was a little too taken with the pseudo-mystery of RLC. This is all the more significant coming from someone who had never seen these papers before and did not know where they were supposed to be from. These observations, combined with the fact that the information the papers give completely contradicts everything else we know about Sauniere (there is no other evidence that he renounced his faith; on the contrary, to the day of his death he was a devout Catholic who struggled to be reinstated as a priest and was given the Last Rites) or early Christianity, for that matter (we have no primary sources for the claim that Mary Magdalene stole the body of Jesus, which seems unlikely at best given the heavy stone in front of the tomb, or that the Templars found the body of Jesus), make it unlikely in the extreme that in these papers we have reliable historical evidence that Christianity was founded upon a lie.

It is worth stressing that even if it turned out that these papers were authentic, we would still have to ask what reliable information Sauniere himself had found for these claims. Maybe esoteric speculation about Jesus was just as widespread in the late 19th Century as it has been in the 20th.

There is a lot more which could be said about the dubious claims of this new documentary (see here for a good review which draws upon biblical studies and archeology). Suffice it to say that unless the current finds are somehow miraculously authenticated and convincing explanations given for all the discrepancies, it is highly unlikely that we are facing the fall of orthodox Christianity. It is in fact eerie how similar this case is to that of the much-hyped Jesus family tomb: again we have amateur archeology, wild speculation, isolated out-of-context quotes from real experts, some magic-sounding computer analysis and a presentation of these finds to the media before being scrutinized by the appropriate experts. The majority of reviews of the documentary have been resoundingly negative (the Bloodline team are not above falsely attached a positive quote to an otherwise negative review; see here, the blurb for the Wittenberg Door review and here, the actual review): it doesn't take an expert to see that the documentary's claims rest on very shaky ground. In short: there is no evidence for a Jesus bloodline, no evidence that the resurrection was a trick, but plenty of evidence of charlatanry and deception. We'll have to wait and see what the truth behind this whole matter is, where the papers and tomb really come from, but I'm not holding my breath for any faith-shattering finds.

P.S. The story of the RLC affair is actually a fascinating one from a historical point of view. For those who want to learn more about Berenger Sauniere, the Priory of Sion, etc. the most balanced book in English (though not without its minor errors) is The Treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau: A Mystery Solved by Bill Putnam and John Wood.

P.P.S. The majority of Internet sources on this subject are full of distortions and unfounded speculation. Even the ones I have linked to may not be entirely accurate. If you try to find out more about this subject, proceed with great caution, critical sense fully attuned.


Jason Pratt said…
Great report, JD. Thanks for taking the time to do the research.

Anonymous said…
Sure, those responsible for managing the "Rennes-le-Chateau research website" believe in their own myths - like in the existence of the "tombs of Jesus Christ and Joseph of Arimathea" - that's why they are criticising Ben Hammott's claims. They have their own agendas to fulfill.
JD Walters said…

That is certainly true, but that doesn't necessarily mean their criticisms are unfounded. In this case I have looked into the RLC Research criticisms and have verified them for myself. Having an agenda can sometimes make a person even more keen to look into rival claims as thoroughly as possible, applying a level of skepticism which may be lost upon enthusiastic supporters. But keep in mind my disclaimers throughout the post about Internet sources as well.
Anonymous said…
Important to put things into proper context.
G.M. Grena said…
Here's a link to another critical review by Gordon Franz of the Associates for Biblical Research.
Jason Pratt said…

So, aside from suspicion of motive, was there a portion of the analysis reported by JD that actually doesn't come up to par? (Suspicion of motive isn't unimportant, as JD himself noted, but suspicion by itself only goes so far.)

TCP said…
Quote from Jason Rhodes' review of Bloodline on shedding some light on the DNA findings. No surprise, the DNA shows European ancestry specific to SW France, not Middle Eastern. Note the last comment - "why split hairs?" - indeed!

"Hairs extracted from the head of the corpse (the extraction was not shown on camera) were sent to the Paleo-DNA Laboratory at Lakehead University (Canada) for analysis. According to Barnett and Burgess, the result of Mitochondrial DNA testing revealed a Middle Eastern origin for the deceased (ergo, this could conceivably be Mary Magdalene, although they seemed to have arrived at that conclusion well in advance).

"Well - yes and no. The report from Lakehead was shown on camera and identifies the mtDNA sample as belonging to Haplogroup I, which migrated out of the Near East and into Europe between 30,000 and 40,000 years ago prior to the last Ice Age. It is virtually unknown outside of Europe, but is no stranger to the French Pyrénnées. One major subculture belonging to this haplogroup settled in southern France and Northern Spain 10,000 to 20,000 years ago during the period archaeologists refer to as the "âge du Renne", or Age of the Reindeer.

"And, perhaps tellingly, this group is called the "Magdalenian Culture" - the name being derived not from Mary Magdalene, but from an excavation site called La Madeleine in the Dordogne region of southern France where its relics were discovered in the 19th century.

"But forget all those bothersome dates and inconvenient details that tend to unnerve alternative historians and spoil a good story - "Renne", "Magdalenian" - close enough, right? Why split hairs?"
Raven said…
Hi JD, thank you for a good piece of work. Being the owner of RLC Research, I hope you'll allow me to react here to your first comment poster.

"Sure, those responsible for managing the "Rennes-le-Chateau research website" believe in their own myths - like in the existence of the "tombs of Jesus Christ and Joseph of Arimathea" - that's why they are criticising Ben Hammott's claims. They have their own agendas to fulfill."

There's no they or those. Disappointingly it's just me. I don't know where this bravely anonymous gentleman gets his information, but he appears to know more about me than I do. Perhaps this anonymous man can tell me where I left my carkeys last Saturday ;) is my hobby. I have no hiddden agendas other than an interest in the mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau. I do not believe in a Tomb of Christ or Arimathea in the area. Never have, never will. I wouldn't disqualify anyone who does by the way. If such tombs exist in Israel or anywhere else it's very unlikely they will ever be recovered. Feel free to call all this 'my agenda', but don't hold your breath until I release a movie, book or whatever to cash in on this great debunking of mine.

So what's the motive then: I have posted the Bloodline article because I am of the opinion it's no problem to fantasize about these things, but you shouldn't tell untruths in front of millions. It doesn't do justice to the beautiful but fragile local historical mystery that Rennes-le-Chateau is.

In my personal opinion, Bloodline is a suspenseful and well-made movie, just don't take it for fact.

Take care and thank you for your interest,

Anonymous said…
Okay, let's put it this way: Raven associates himself with individuals who are strongly connected with Andre Douzet, who believes that he has found the "tombs of Jesus Christ and Joseph of Arimathea". Raven mentions these tombs on his website, but not in the same critical way as the "tombs" of "Ben Hammott". I do not think that he can quibble with this.
JD Walters said…
Raven and anon,

Thank you both for your input and responses. I really don't want to take sides here. I've already made clear that what I'm interested in are the actual critiques and arguments, not whatever else a person believes. So please don't let this turn into an endless back and forth of ad hominems. I want to keep the comments section for specific responses to what I wrote.

But I will say, however, that Raven's site is one of the most informative and balanced I have come across on RLC and I am indebted to him for many of the details in this post. So kudos for the great work he has put in over the years.
Anonymous said…
Try these links:

Saunière’s model and the Secret of Rennes-le-Château:
"Save Your Money,
Reviewer: A reader
I found the purpose of this book difficult to comprehend - I still
have no idea just what it is that Douzet expects readers to come
away with. Douzet goes to great lengths to persuade readers that a
topographical model, one of a set of two models showing excavations
of the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, is
actually a model of the area near the ruined village of Perillos in
France. The trouble is, it bears no physical resemblance whatsoever
to the topography around Perillos when compared to IGN maps. Also,
the mate to the model, long held in the possession of the late
Biblical archaeologist Monsignor Enrico Galbiati, is known to
archaeologists, and is unquestionably that of the excavations of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Douzet fails to explain adequately why a matched set of models - before and after views of a well-known excavation site - are in fact two separate places on different continents. In addition, Douzet's account of the history of the Perillos family is sorely lacking in authenticity. A descendant of the family, known to Douzet's publisher, tried working with Douzet to make some sense out of the theories, but gave up in frustration, citing Douzet's inability to comprehend simple historical points and unwilling to part with hypotheses that were at odds with historical records. Douzet is similarly unclear about what "secrets" Perillos holds. He has, at various times, claimed the ghost town as the secret burial place of both Jesus Christ and Joseph of Arimathea, and most recently of the Order of Malta Grand Master Ramon Perellos Roccafull - whose marble sarcophagus, a well-known masterpiece of Baroque sculpture, lies in the Cathedral of the Order in Valetta, Malta. I found this book poorly researched, poorly footnoted, and really difficult to read. I still don't understand the point of it."

What tests has Douzet had done on his coffee aged 'Sauniere' document? None

Has Douzet reported his 'Tombs' to the DRAC? No

And yet Raven does not attack him like he has Hammott, why?

And Raven says he has no agenda, think again as you only have to read his posts and comments on the film on his web site and some forums to realize that he has, whatever he says to the contrary.

I wonder how different the critique of the film on this page would have been if the film's message was agreeing with the stories in the bible?

The vatican has already attacked the film so what else can Christians do but try to discredit it also.

Just because Raven and others post comments attacking the film dosen't mean it is true and yet JD includes links to these dubious reports as if it was fact. No agenda, I think there is :-)
JD Walters said…
Anon (although I'm guessing you're Paul Smith, runner of,

Like I've said before, I have no interest in promoting any particular RLC theory, whether of Raven, Douzet, Coppens, Gough, etc. All I'm interested in is critically examining the claims of the Bloodline documentary. To do that I researched a number of resources, including RLC Research,, the forums, Wikipedia, etc. I do not cite any dubious source as 'fact'. Let me remind you of the disclaimer at the end of my post:

"The majority of Internet sources on this subject are full of distortions and unfounded speculation. Even the ones I have linked to may not be entirely accurate."

However, like I've said before, the criticisms I make of the documentary are ones which I have verified for myself, or have been pointed out by others unaffiliated with Douzet or anyone else. For example, I can read French and saw for myself that there are in fact serious mistakes on the clue papers. I've seen that the signature on one of the papers doesn't match the authentic one. Keith Matthews runs and he is a professionally trained archeologist so I trust his opinion about the writing style.

So again I ask you: where specifically do I make mistakes or distortions in my post? Where have I taken something as fact which is not true? Where have I not qualified my statements?

"I wonder how different the critique of the film on this page would have been if the film's message was agreeing with the stories in the bible?"

If it contained errors, exaggerations, distortions or hoaxes I would be just as critical of it as I am of this documentary. The same goes for all the other contributors to this blog. We are all critically thinking Christians interested in reason and evidence. We do not gullibly accept anything even if it supports our faith.

Again I will repeat my statement: Point out SPECIFIC places in my post where I state as fact something that's not true, or exaggerate or distort someone else's statement, etc. or stay off this blog. I have absolutely no desire for a pointless back-and-forth of name calling. And please don't link to anything which is not directly on the topic of the Bloodline documentary.
Anonymous said…
JD, I will say just this one last thing. The RLC site run by Raven is pure romance. It is nothing more than the promotion of old-hack uncorroborated fantasies. It does not take the informed researcher too long to work that one out. If you wish to choose to believe that what Raven writes about Berenger Sauniere and Rennes-le-Chateau on his website to be "balanced and reasoned" then most reasoned researchers will disagree with you.
Big White Chief 007 said…
Why are people out there so gullible? Hammott's mummy could have been obtained recently from an auction.
Jason Pratt said…
JD: {{Again I will repeat my statement: Point out SPECIFIC places in my post where I state as fact something that's not true, or exaggerate or distort someone else's statement, etc. or stay off this blog. I have absolutely no desire for a pointless back-and-forth of name calling.}}

Anon: {{JD, I will say just this one last thing. The RLC site run by Raven is pure romance.}}

Well, that says pretty much all that Anon can say, I guess.

Jason Pratt said…
Oh, and thanks for posting the article excerpt for perusal, TCP.

TCP said…
Most welcome. Here's a link to the full review:
Goliath said…
I don't care if this documentary is factual or not: I loathe jesus, I hate the xian god, and nothing that any of you people can say or do will ever change that.
Anonymous said…
JD, I will also add this. The whole Rennes-le-Chateau "mystery" is a fabrication built on a mixture of lies and fantasy trivia, Sauniere's wealth has been explained by researchers such as Putnam and Wood. Raven belongs to the fantasy category of the subject matter believing in the popular romances that have been dismissed by serious researchers.
General Napoleon said…
Oh Andre Douzet, the French guy who claims to have "found" a maquette that was "ordered by Berenger Sauniere" but refuses to show the original documents, only photocopies of them. I know about him. He's regarded as a crank in France. Nobody in France takes any notice of him.
Gerry said…
There's a lot of hypocrisy from Raven in his criticisms of the movie, "Bloodline". Raven has a lot of respect for Henry Lincoln and this shows on his internet website - the same Henry Lincoln who co-wrote "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" surmising that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene and started a dynasty that exists to this very day. There is a lot of respect shown to "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" in the documentary, "Bloodline". Where, I wonder, would that documentary be without inspiration from "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail"?
Thanks, Gerry.
Paul Smith said…
I wish to leave a comment.
The trio of Gough, Raven and Coppens have been debunking the documentary "Bloodline" as part of their Andre Douzet promotion agenda, that is a certain fact. Who takes any notice of them? What type of "researcher" takes these people seriously? Only the type of "researcher" who wants to uncritically believe in the Rennes-le-Chateau myths and legends. And it does not matter in how many varied and contradictory forms these multitudinous accounts appear, it all adds to their fun. Gough, Raven and Coppens take in all the throw outs that have been rejected by serious researchers. That's why nobody takes any notice of them. Gough, Raven and Coppens have just been responding to attacks made upon them on this Blog by spreading libellous and inaccurate hearsay rumours about me that have existed on the undercurrent of the 'net associated with the various factions that want to believe in the myths and legends. That one of their trio has a documented criminal record is something that they naturally want to remain silent about. The last poster put it eloquesntly, where they can criticise and attack Bloodline they are unable to do so in the case of Henry Lincoln, a former faith-healer who was told in advance of the publication of The Holy Blood And The Holy Grail that everything to do with Pierre Plantard and the Priory of Sion was a hoax and a fraud, and was in a position to see the corroborating evidence at the time, but refused to do so because he had committed himself to believing in the myths and legends. Gough, Raven and Coppens cannot adore Henry Lincoln with enough respect: to them, Lincoln is a Legend.
Anonymous said…
Interestingly, Paul, Henry still has some of your hilariously fawning correspondence (on "Priory" letterhead, no less!). I guess there's no fury like a groupie scorned, eh?

But besides that, Paul, your own website is so replete with errors and self-contradictions that one fears the author might some day do himself harm in one of his drunken stupors.
JD Walters said…
Alright, enough is enough. Anyone who posts a comment continuing this ad hominem back-and-forth will have their comments deleted. I've given fair warning of this. This comments list is for discussing the post itself, NOT rivalries among the various RLC researchers.
JD Walters said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said…
is it just me or is anybody bothered by the fact that Ben Hammott Never brings anybody to the tomb location ? in the end all we are left with is his word...

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