17th-Century Mummified Child May Have Died From Being Kept Out Of The Sun
Led by Dr. Andreas Nerlich from the Academic Clinic Munich-Bogenhausen, the research team conducted a virtual autopsy, radiocarbon testing, and meticulously examined family records and material evidence from the burial. Their goal was to unravel the child’s identity and gain insights into their brief existence.
While the virtual autopsy was carried out using CT scanning, the team analyzed bone lengths, tooth eruption patterns, and the formation of long bones to estimate that the child was around one year old at the time of death. The preserved soft tissue revealed that the child was a boy who, despite being well-fed, suffered from malnourishment. The child’s ribs exhibited deformities consistent with a condition known as rachitic rosary, typically seen in severe cases of rickets or scurvy. Despite gaining weight, the child’s bones told a different story of nutritional deficiency.
Interestingly, the absence of the typical bone bowing associated with rickets may be attributed to the child’s inability to walk or crawl. The virtual autopsy also revealed inflammation of the lungs, indicative of pneumonia, which poses a higher risk for children with rickets. Therefore, the nutritional deficiencies likely contributed to the child’s untimely demise.
Dr. Nerlich emphasized the significance of this case, stating that their findings could have far-reaching implications for understanding infant life, even among higher social classes, as infant mortality rates were generally high during that era.
Although the probable cause of death had been established, the child’s identity remained a mystery. Skull deformation suggested that the child’s modest wooden coffin was slightly too small for him. However, upon examining the child’s clothing, specialists discovered that he had been buried in a long, hooded coat made of luxurious silk. Furthermore, he was interred in a crypt exclusively reserved for the influential Starhemberg counts, who laid to rest their title-holders, primarily first-born sons, and their wives. Therefore, it is highly likely that the child was the first-born son of a Starhemberg count.
Radiocarbon dating of a skin sample indicated that the child was buried between 1550 and 1635 CE, aligning with historical records that suggested his burial occurred after the crypt’s renovation around 1600 CE. Remarkably, he was the sole infant buried in the crypt, leaving researchers with no information regarding the fate of other infants within the family. Dr. Nerlich speculates that this unique burial arrangement suggests that the infant was the first-born son of the count after the construction of the family crypt, implying that special care may have been given to him.
The evidence thus points to a likely candidate for the child in the silk coat: Reichard Wilhelm. His grief-stricken family laid him to rest alongside his grandfather and namesake, Reichard von Starhemberg.
Through the convergence of cutting-edge scientific analysis and historical context, this study has shed new light on the life and death of a 17th-century child. The findings provide valuable insights into the realities of Renaissance childhood, highlighting the challenges of nutrition and health faced by even the privileged classes. By unraveling the mysteries surrounding this unidentified child mummy, researchers have contributed to the broader understanding of the social and cultural aspects of the time period, and the experiences of infants within aristocratic families.