Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tycho Brahe

Yesterday, a team of archaeologists, doctors, chemists and medical anthropologists from Sweden, Denmark, and the Czech Republic raised the 400-year-old remains of observant and influential Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546-1601). Brahe (1st image) had been interred in a tin casket (3rd image) in the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn near Prague's Old Town Square. Team leader Jens Vellev, a professor of medieval archaeology at Aarhus University, oversaw the exhumation (2nd image) and will remove and test samples in an effort to answer the following questions:
  • Does the condition of the skeletal remains match the physical description recorded in 1901, when the tomb was opened to mark the 300th anniversary of Brahe's death?
  • Was his death correctly attributed to the rupture of his bladder due to obeying protocol and refusing to leave the table to use the bathroom during a royal banquet?
  • Did kidney disease or kidney stones play a role in his death?
  • Was Brahe in fact accidentally or deliberately poisoned, as suggested by unusually high levels of mercury detected in previously obtained samples of his mustache and hair?
  • Or had he been prescribed mercury as a medical treatment for syphilis or ingested too much of it in the course of his experiments?
  • Will enough shreds of Brahe's patterned silk burial suit remain to allow them to reconstruct the aristocratic outfit?
  • Is there enough evidence on Brahe's skull to determine the material (possibly a silver-copper alloy) used to construct the missing prosthetic nose he wore after his was cut off during a duel with a fellow nobleman in 1566?
The scientific team must gather their samples by Friday, when Brahe is scheduled for reburial. "Perhaps, we will be able to come close to an answer, but I don't think we will get a final answer," said Vellez, adding that scientists might have to exhume Brahe's remains again in 200 to 300 years to complete his research.

1 comment:

  1. I remember learning about him in astronomy class. It's so interesting that they can still get details about his life so long after his death. I can't wait to hear any answers they can find.


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