Medieval Mummy Head Shows Dark Ages Medicine Wasn’t That Dark

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The state-of-the-art process leads researchers to believe that doctors were likely to have practiced the techniques repeatedly. “The veins and arteries are filled with a mixture of beeswax, lime, and cinnabar mercury. This would have helped preserve the body as well as give the circulatory system some color, as cinnabar mercury has a red tint,” notes study researcher Philippe Charlier, a physician and forensic scientist at University Hospital R. Poincare in France.

The age leading up to the Renaissance in Europe
may not have been so dark after all, say modern historians, debunking the view
that dubbed the Middle Ages a time of illiteracy and barbarianism. In a recent
report from Stephanie Pappas and Live Science in Scientific American
(March 5, 2013)
, a recent carbon dating analysis of a medieval mummy head
reveals advanced scientific pursuits. The specimen dates back to the 1200s and
is now seen as the oldest known European anatomical preparation.
 

The state-of-the-art process leads researchers to believe
that doctors were likely to have practiced the techniques repeatedly. “The
veins and arteries are filled with a mixture of beeswax, lime, and cinnabar
mercury. This would have helped preserve the body as well as give the
circulatory system some color, as cinnabar mercury has a red tint,” notes study
researcher Philippe Charlier, a physician and forensic scientist at University
Hospital R. Poincare in France.
The preservation techniques, Charlier believes, were likely to preserve the
body for further medical education.

While the time frame and techniques have been established,
much will likely remain unknown. Just who was this specimen?  In the journal Archives of Medical Science,
researchers speculate it could have belonged to an unclaimed pauper, a
prisoner, or an institutionalized person.

The mummy specimen serves as another example in a
string of evidence pointing to considerable scientific progress in the later
Middle Ages. Rumors were previously spread that the Medieval Christian church
banned autopsy practices, hindering medical progress.

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