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The Embalmed Heart of Richard the Lionheart (1199 A.D.): A Biological and Anthropological Analysis

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The Embalmed Heart of Richard the Lionheart (1199 A.D.): A Biological and Anthropological Analysis

Philippe Charlier et al. Sci Rep.

Abstract

During the Middle Ages, the partition of the cadaver of the elite members was a current practice, with highly technical treatment given to symbolic organs such as the heart. Considered mostly from a theoretical point of view, this notion of dilaceratio corporis has never been biologically explored. To assess the exact kind of embalming reserved to the heart, we performed a full biomedical analysis of the mummified heart of the English King Richard I (1199 A.D.). Here we show among other aspects, that the organ has been embalmed using substances inspired by Biblical texts and practical necessities of desiccation. We found that the heart was deposed in linen, associated with myrtle, daisy, mint, frankincense, creosote, mercury and, possibly, lime. Furthermore, the goal of using such preservation materials was to allow long-term conservation of the tissues, and good-smelling similar to the one of the Christ (comparable to the odor of sanctity).

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
The heart box of Richard I (photo credit: Musée départemental des Antiquités © Yohann Deslandes/CG76) (A). Actual aspect of the crystal box containing the remains of the mummified heart of Richard I (picture by Philippe Charlier) (B).
Figure 2
Figure 2
Detail of the textile fragments and whitish organic powder under binocular lenses (picture by Joël Poupon) (A).Surface view and optical section of a pollen of Mentha sp. Lamiaceae under optical microscope (magnification x1000) (picture by Speranta-Maria Popescu) (B). Detail of a group of bacteria (Bacillus sp.) within the embalming matter of the mummified heart (SEM, magnification x4840) (picture by Raphaël Weil) (C). General view of the post-mortem development of fungi (Aspergillus sp.) within the embalming matter of the mummified heart (SEM, magnification x50) (picture by Raphaël Weil) (D).
Figure 3
Figure 3
Chromatogram from the direct desorption of the white matter sample (A) and dark matter sample (B) from the heart's fragment of King Richard the Lionheart.
Figure 4
Figure 4
Oleanane type structure (alpha-boswellic acid) and its mass-spectra.

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References

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