Interesting trepanation news last week: In Soria, Spain, two skulls have been exhumed showing evidence of trepanation. This is remarkable because they date from the 13th and 14th centuries C.E.—a time when trepanation was not usually done in the region.
From Science Daily:
The two skulls found in the cemetery in Soria belong to a male between 50 and 55 years and a woman between 45 and 50 years. The expert points out that “another interesting aspect of this finding is that trepanation in women is considered rare throughout all periods in history. In Spain, only 10% of those trepanned skulls found belonged to women.” [ … ]
The trepanation technique differs in each of the skulls. The skull of the male has been grooved with a sharp object and it is unknown whether trepanation occurred before or after his death. López Martínez confirms that “if the procedure took place whilst still alive, there is no sign of regeneration and the subject did not survive.”
In the woman, a scraping technique was used while she was still alive. According to the researchers, she survived for a “relatively long” amount of time afterwards given that the wound scarring is advanced.
This got me thinking about a documentary I saw a while back about a Brit named Amanda Feilding. Here’s a clip of her trepanning herself in front of a mirror. (Probably unnecessary warning: graphic.)
When I get migraines, I fantasize about self-trepanation. But only for about ten seconds.
Image: Detail from “The Extraction of the Stone of Madness”, a painting by Hieronymus Bosch depicting trepanation (c.1488-1516). Via Wikipedia.
FBI and NYPD investigators are excavating the basement at 127 Prince Street in SoHo for the remains of six-year-old Etan Patz, who disappeared while walking to his bus stop in 1979—the first time he was allowed to walk alone.
Etan was the first missing child to be pictured on a milk carton, and the day of his disappearance, May 25, became National Missing Children’s Day.
This article in the Times looks at the science behind the new search and includes some quotes from Dr. Michael Baden, medical examiner for the City at the time of Etan’s disappearance:
What may have survived after all these years and the effects of the moisture of the soil and the bacteria from decomposition?
“There probably would still be bone,” Dr. [Michael] Baden said. “The permanent teeth that we have, more so than baby teeth, last for decades. Longer than that. It’s easy to get DNA from teeth and long bones.”
There could still be hair. “That definitely would provide DNA,” Dr. Baden said. Any blood spilled would have long decomposed, he said, but investigators will surely be looking for signs of insect activity.
“Maggots can have the DNA of an individual,” from feeding on a body, Dr. Baden said. The pupae cases left behind from hatching flies could contain the body’s DNA, he said.
Image: Etan Patz in 1978. Photograph by his father, Stanley K. Patz. Via Wikipedia.
The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice posted this on Facebook this morning, and I couldn’t not share:
A female skull dating from 1829 with the bony skeleton of a large facial tumour (possibly caused by neurofibromatosis) involving the right side of the face. The tumour arose in the right antrum, and during five years’ growth destroyed the right malar bone, the palate, and the maxilla. Specimen from the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, London.
This toothpick is in the form of an enamelled gold arm that holds a curved sickle for picking teeth. At the other end it has a death’s-head finial (the decorative knob). Elaborately decorated toothpicks had a long tradition. In the Middle Ages they were often made from the claws of birds, especially the bittern, a long-legged water bird.
The toothpick shows an ingenious use of the popular contemporary imagery of death: the arm is surmounted by a skull and holds the sickle of Father Time. Once again the message is ‘Remember you must die’.
The thought of designing an apparatus to stimulate death by electrocution first came to dentist Dr. Albert Southwick in 1881, who watched a drunk man touch the terminal of an electricity generator in Buffalo, New York. Impressed at how quickly and painlessly the man died, he mentioned the incident to his friend, a state senator, who promptly brought the matter to the attention of the governor. The state legislature was then asked to consider how modern day electricity might emerge as an alternative to the often grisly process of hanging, in which incompetent executioners often inadvertently subjected prisoners to slow deaths by strangulation or decapitation.
Child skeletons (National Museum of Health and Medicine) by Prof. Jas. Mundie (James G. Mundie) on Flickr.
These mummy pictures make me kind of sad for him. At least his hair is awesome.
'I’m not sure MRI can prove that someone who is dead (or a mummy) won’t come back to life. As a scientist, you simply have to say such events are extraordinarily rare. As a believer, you can say whatever you’d like; I’m a believer, so I do believe that people will live again … but I won’t try to use MRI to convince you of that position.' Sorenson is a nice, friendly guy, and I hope for his sake that God is not a cat lover.
Saint Hubert (ca. 656 - 727), the first Bishop of Liège (in present-day Belgium), is the patron saint of hunters, archers, dogs, forest workers, trappers, mathematicians, opticians, metalworkers, and smelters. He was venerated widely during the Middle Ages.
The National Gallery in London recounts the legend of his exhumation:
The body of Saint Hubert … was exhumed in 825 from St Peter’s in Liège, a church he founded, and moved to the Abbey of Andagium, St-Hubert-des-Ardennes. Though long dead, his body was undecayed, proving his sainthood to the figures gathered to watch.
The Abbey of Andagium became a popular pilgrimage site, but the saint’s remains disappeared during the Reformation.
Sidenote One: Saint Hubert—like another patron saint of hunters, Saint Eustace—has traditionally been associated with the image of a deer with a cross between its antlers. His conversion legend has it that after his wife died in childbirth, Hubert retreated to the Ardennes and devoted himself entirely to hunting. From Wikipedia:
On Good Friday morning, when the faithful were crowding the churches, Hubert sallied forth to the chase. As he was pursuing a magnificent stag or hart, the animal turned and, as the pious legend narrates, he was astounded at perceiving a crucifix standing between its antlers, while he heard a voice saying: “Hubert, unless thou turnest to the Lord, and leadest an holy life, thou shalt quickly go down into hell.”
The Saint Hubert deer might look familiar. It appears here:
Sidenote Two: Up until the early twentieth century, folks invoked Saint Hubert to cure rabies, using a metal tool known as a “Saint Hubert’s Key”:
From the Science Museum in London (where this specimen resides):
[Saint Hubert’s Keys] took the form of a bar, nail or cross that was either carried or attached to a wall of a home for added protection. A priest would prick the forehead of a person with rabies and a black bandage would be applied for nine days while the heated key was placed on the body where the bite had occurred. This could actually help because if the heated key was applied immediately it could cauterise and sterilize the wound, effectively killing the rabies virus.
Images, top to bottom:
This post from the Dissection Room over on The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice (an entire blog devoted to “the horrors of pre-anaesthetic surgery”!) is about a condition known as craniopagus parasiticus and the case of an 18th-century Bengali boy:
The normal face and head were not malformed. The brains were distinct, each invested in its own membranes; the dura mater of each adhered to that of the other at the point of contact. The chief supply of blood to the upper head was by a number of vessels passing from the membranes of one brain to that of the other. The movements of the features of the upper head appear to have been purely reflex, and by no means to have been controlled by the feelings or desires of the child. The movements of the eyes of the accessory head did not correspond with those of the child, and the eyelids were usually open, even during sleep.
His skull(s) now reside(s) at the Royal College of Surgeons in London.
Skeletons, mummies, bog bodies, exhumations. The dead, and what happens to them.
Meet This Dead Person
Feats of Preservation
Skulls and Skeletons
Ossuaries and Bone Architecture
Incorruptibles and Saintly Relics
When Famous People Die
When Dead People Turn to Soap
Skeletons in Clothes
Dead People Sitting, Standing, or
Made to Look Alive
Death in Art
Accidents and Disasters
Morgues, Funeral Homes, and the
Business of Death
Mourning Customs and Imagery
Handling, Disposing of, and Storing
Posthumous Travels and
Cemeteries and Graveyard Scenes
Personal Details and Opinions
Just Plain Weird or Uncategorizable