The cause of death of a mummified toddler has been revealed about 400 years after he died as a result of a ‘virtual autopsy’.
The child was found buried in a wooden coffin in an Austrian family crypt, where the mummification process had preserved his soft tissue.
His body received a CT scan that showed telltale signs of pneumonia and vitamin D deficiency, while radiocarbon dating was performed on the tissue and skin to provide a range of dates on when he died.
Historical records also revealed information about his background, suggesting that he was the son of one of the Earls of Starhemberg – a 17th-century aristocratic family.
The researchers, from the Munich-Bogenhausen Academic Clinic in Germany, conclude that the boy is likely Reichard Wilhelm, who died in 1625 or 1626.
Lead author Dr. Andreas Nerlich said, “According to our records, the baby was most likely… [the count’s] firstborn son after the construction of the family crypt, so special care may have been taken.”
The baby mummy (pictured) from the Hellmonsödt crypt was found buried in a wooden coffin in a silk coat
The boy’s burial conditions and mummification preserved his tissue to such an extent that it could be analyzed using advanced technology to reveal more about his life and death
His body received a CT scan (pictured) which showed telltale signs of pneumonia and vitamin D deficiency. A: Three-dimensional reconstruction of the skeleton. B: Part of the rosary topogram of the costochondral junction in the ribs (thin arrows) suggesting rickets
THE DEGREE OF STARHEMBERG
The house Starhemberg is the name of an old and prominent noble family originating from Upper Austria, namely Steyr and Steinbach.
They were counts of the empire from 1643 and raised to princely rank in 1765.
Members of the family played an important political role within the Holy Roman Empire and later in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Notable members include Count Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg (1638-1701), a politician, field marshal and commander of the Vienna city defense against the Turks in 1683.
Erasmus of Starhemberg (1503-1560) was an Austrian nobleman and the great-great grandfather of Reichard Wilhelm.
The Counts of Starhemberg is one of the oldest aristocratic families in Austria, and their crypt is located close to their residence at Wildberg Castle in the village of Hellmonsödt.
The crypt contained numerous members of the family, all of whom were buried in elaborately decorated metal coffins, with the exception of a single baby whose coffin was made of wood and unmarked.
His burial conditions and mummification preserved his tissue to the extent that it could be analyzed using advanced technology to reveal more about his life and death.
For the study, published today in Limits in Medicinethe team of Dr. Nerlich cut his teeth and measured the length of his bones, suggesting the child was between 12 and 18 months old when he died.
The anatomy of the body revealed that the child was male, had dark hair and was overweight for his age, suggesting that his parents were feeding him well.
However, when the researchers performed a virtual autopsy through CT scanning, they found that his ribs had become misshapen in a pattern called a “rachitic rosary,” which is usually seen in severe rickets or scurvy.
This suggests that even though he was fed enough food to gain weight, he was still malnourished enough to contract one of these conditions.
So it is believed that it resulted from a vitamin D deficiency after being hidden from sunlight.
The authors say that in the Renaissance period, socially high-ranking people avoided exposure to sunlight, as aristocrats were expected to have fair skin, and so were small babies.
dr. Nerlich said: ‘The combination of obesity and severe vitamin deficiency can only be explained by a generally ‘good’ nutritional status and an almost complete lack of exposure to sunlight.
“We need to rethink the living conditions of high aristocratic infants from previous populations.”
The Counts of Starhemberg is one of the oldest aristocratic families in Austria, and their crypt is located close to their residence at Wildberg Castle in the village of Hellmonsödt. Pictured: The Starhemberg family’s original coat of arms
CT scan of the costochondral junction in the boy’s ribs with a magnification as seen in ‘squeaky rosary’ or ‘scurvy rosary’
Axial CT sections through the chest showing remnants of lung tissue in the right chest cavity with some adhesions suggestive of pneumonia
CT scan of the skull base showing the extensive dislocation of the bones. The damage would have been incurred after he died, as there were no accompanying bone fractures, blood residue or tissue damage. Thin arrows: Disruption of sutures. Middle arrow: Dislocated right rock bone. Thick arrow: dislocated parts of the spine
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE GUMMIFIED INFANT?
Sex : Male
Age: 12 to 18 months
cause of death: Pneumonia and vitamin deficiency
year of death: 1625 or 1626
Identity: Reichard Wilhelm, firstborn son of a Count of Starhemberg
lifestyle: Well-nourished but malnourished due to lack of sunlight
While his bones were not bent in the way typical of someone suffering from rickets, his estimated age suggests he died before he was old enough to walk or crawl, which would have led to this deformity.
Children with rickets are more vulnerable to pneumonia, and the CT scan also showed that he had inflammation of the lungs that is characteristic of the infection.
As a result, the researchers determined that this was likely his cause of death, but his nutritional deficiency may have contributed.
While there was also deformation in the bones of his skull, it is believed to have been sustained after he died, as there were no accompanying bone fractures, blood residue, or tissue damage.
So it’s believed to be the result of his flat, narrow chest that wasn’t big enough for his body.
When it came to identifying the child, there were even more clues that could be extracted from the remains.
Specialist examination of his clothing showed he was buried in a long hooded coat made of expensive silk, while radiocarbon dating of a skin sample suggested he was buried sometime between 1550 and 1635.
The researchers also looked at the history of the crypt of the mighty Earls of Starhemberg and found that this is where they buried their assigns — usually firstborn sons — and wives.
Records also indicated that the crypt was renovated around the year 1600 and the boy was probably buried afterwards.
Given that he was the only baby buried in the crypt, was likely an earl’s firstborn son, and the number of years he could have died, investigators believe the little boy is Reichard Wilhelm.
They suggest that his grieving family deliberately buried him next to his grandfather and namesake Reichard von Starhemberg.
dr. Nerlich said: ‘This is just one case, but given that we know that early infant mortality rates were generally very high at the time, our observations could have a significant impact on the overall reconstruction of babies’ lives, even in higher social classes. .’