In more medieval forensic archaeology, researchers have found the mummified heart of Richard the Lionheart (1157-1199), which had been buried separately from the rest of his body. Nothing is left of it but a brown powder, but tests show that he was NOT poisoned, as some have thought, and that the embalming methods used spices associated with the burial of Christ. King Richard I ruled England beginning in 1189 and was a hero of the Crusades. (See the heart after the jump.)
When the English monarch, nicknamed Richard the Lionheart, died in 1199 his heart was embalmed and buried separately from the rest of his body.
Its condition was too poor to reveal the cause of death, but the team was able to rule out a theory that he had been killed by a poisoned arrow.
The researchers were also able to find out more about the methods used to preserve his organ.
The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The medieval king became known as Richard the Lionheart because of his reputation as a courageous military leader.
He was central to the Third Crusade, fighting against the Muslim leader Saladin.
Although he ruled England, he spent much of his time in France, and was killed there after being hit by a crossbow bolt during a siege on a castle.
After his death, his body was divided up – a common practice for aristocracy during the Middle Ages.
His entrails were buried in Chalus, which is close to Limoges in central France. The rest of his body was entombed further north, in Fontevraud Abbey, but his heart was embalmed and buried in the cathedral of Notre Dame in Rouen.
The remains of his heart – now a grey-brown powder – were locked away in a small lead box, and discovered in the 19th Century during an excavation.
But until now, they had not been studied in detail.
To find out more, a team of forensic specialists and historians performed a biological analysis.
Dr Philippe Charlier, a forensic scientist from Raymond Poincare University Hospital, in France, said: “We carried out exactly the same kind of analysis that we would perform on an exhumed body for forensic purposes.
“We did a microscopic examination, toxicological analysis and also a pollen analysis.”
The heart was too badly decomposed to confirm exactly how the king died – most historians believe gangrene or septicaemia from his wound would have been the cause.
However, another, less widespread theory put forward in a medieval chronicle is that Richard I may have been killed by an arrow coated in poison.
But Dr Charlier said his tests revealed that this probably was not the case.
“Our toxicological analysis showed no presence of any arsenic or any other metals, so we haven’t found any proof of any contamination during the end of Richard the Lionheart’s life,” he explained.
“We have no confirmation that he would have been poisoned: there is no argument for this.”
The team found pollen in the sample, including grains from poplar and bellflower. This suggests that Richard I died at the end of April, May or the beginning of June, as these plants are in flower then. In the history books, his date of death is given as 6 April 1199.
The analysis also revealed much more about the techniques that were used to preserve his heart – providing an insight into medieval religious rituals.
Dr Charlier said: “The spices and vegetables used for the embalming process were directly inspired by the ones used for the embalming of Christ.
“For example, we found frankincense. This is the only case known of using frankincense – we have never found any use of this before. This product is really devoted to very, very important persons in history.”
The heart, which was wrapped in linen, also had traces of myrtle, daisy, mint and possibly lime.
The scientists think these would have been used for their smell, to give the King an “odour of sanctity”, which would be “similar to Christ”.
They also found mercury, which would have been used stop the heart from decomposing.
Dr Charlier said that during the post-mortem, they used up as little material as possible.
He explained: “We wanted to conserve it for the future generations.
“These are not only samples, they are also human remains and we have to respect them.”