The mystery of the mummified child revealed by scientists after 400 years

The mystery of the mummified child revealed by scientists after 400 years

The mystery surrounding a mummified child has been solved four centuries after his death, thanks to what scientists call a “virtual autopsy.” And they believe that he died for an issue that has drawn a lot of attention in recent years. Doctors have warned about it and urged daily action to prevent it, particularly during the COVID-19 epidemic.

The child was found in Hellmonsödt, Austria, in a wooden coffin inside a crypt of the Counts of Starhemberg. He belonged to a 17th century upper class family, one of the oldest aristocratic families in the country. Researchers from the German Academic Clinic Munich-Bogenhausen determined that the child was likely Reichard Wilhelm, who died in 1625 or 1626.

The crypt contained several members of the family. All of them were buried in ornate metal coffins, except for the little boy, whose simple wooden coffin was unmarked. What led to the child’s death at such a young age? Read on to find out what scientists discovered.

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Identity provided by computed tomography

According to the study, published this week in the journal Frontiers in Medicine, the child’s body was well preserved and had been mummified, allowing researchers to analyze its soft tissue. To do this, they used a CT scanner.

Meanwhile, radiocarbon dating allowed scientists to determine when he had lived. “According to our data, it is most likely that the baby [the count’s] firstborn son after the erection of the family crypt, so special care may have been applied,” said Andreas Nerlich, lead author of the study.

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The scan also provided clues about disease

The research team studied the boy’s teeth and measured his bones, which indicated that he was between 12 and 18 months old when he died. The boy had dark hair and was overweight for his age, suggesting that he was well fed.

However, the CT scan revealed that his ribs were deformed, indicating a metabolic bone disease. They had developed in a pattern called “rachitic rosary,” a condition in which protrusions of bone develop at the junction of the ribs and cartilage. It is usually seen in severe cases of rickets or scurvy. The examination also revealed an inflammation of the lungs characteristic of pneumonia.

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Despite being overweight, the boy was still malnourished

To the researchers, this indicated that although the boy had been fed enough to gain a lot of weight, he was still malnourished. They suggest that he developed a vitamin D deficiency after being indoors and out of sunlight.

Rickets is mainly caused by a deficiency of vitamin C, and vitamin D deficiency has been associated with several serious diseases, including respiratory diseases. Scientists concluded that the boy had died of pneumonia and that his nutritional deficiency could have been a contributing factor.

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“Total lack of exposure to sunlight”

Scientists noticed that in the 17th century, members of the upper class avoided sunlight. Pale skin was considered desirable and a mark of wealth: only workers tanned from working hard in the sun.

“The combination of obesity coupled with severe vitamin deficiency can only be explained by a generally ‘good’ nutritional status coupled with an almost complete lack of exposure to sunlight,” Nerlich said. “We have to reconsider the living conditions of the infants of the high aristocracy of the previous populations.”

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Experts warn against vitamin C and D deficiency today

“This is just one case, but since we know that early infant mortality rates were generally very high at the time, our observations can have a considerable impact on the general reconstruction of the lives of babies, even in the highest social classes. Nerlich said.

Today, experts have advised Americans to get plenty of vitamins C and D. Being deficient in one or both can depress the immune system, a particular concern during the COVID pandemic. While vitamin C deficiency is rare in the US, most Americans don’t get enough vitamin D, which is produced by the body in response to sun exposure. This is why some experts recommend daily supplementation with vitamin D.

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