Friday, May 27, 2011

The Bones of Martyrs?

Forensic anthropologists’ two main goals in analysing a set of recent human skeletal remains are to positively identify the deceased and to work out the cause of the individual’s death. When these techniques are applied to historical remains, generally called forensic archaeology, all too often what results are sensationalized reports that are difficult to verify – from the 1991 exhumation of U.S. president Zachary Taylor amid claims he died of arsenic poisoning; to a 2005 study showing lead poisoning may have killed Beethoven (but also may not have); to the 2010 claims that King Tut died of malaria and Julius Caesar suffered from a brain tumour.

In an April National Geographic news piece and film, a team of physical anthropologists analysed two skeletons found in a vault in an Italian church in an attempt to show that they represent the 3rd century AD saints Chrysanthus and Daria.

More at Past Horizons