CLOSE

Blood Found in a Dried Squash Belongs to Louis XVI


Image courtesy of The History Blog.

The dried, hollowed out squash is ornately decorated, emblazoned with the portraits of French revolutionary heroes and intriguing passages of text: “On January 21, Maximilien Bourdaloue dipped his handkerchief in the blood of Louis XVI after his decapitation. Once congealed, he put it in this gourd and gave it to me for two banknotes of ten Francs. T. Pes c.f. L.er. F. Aegnauld.” The squash held no hanky. But there was dried blood inside.

The claim on the Cuburbita moschata squash, which was purchased by an Italian family more than a century ago, is supported by history: The French people did dip their handkerchiefs in the former king’s blood after he was beheaded to keep as macabre souveniers. But did the blood inside the squash actually come from Louis XVI?

Two years ago, DNA analysis performed on the two-century-old residue revealed that it was, in fact, blood, and that it likely belonged to someone matching Louis’ description. But a conclusive authentication wasn’t possible, because there was no other royal DNA to compare the sample with. After Louis' execution, French revolutionaries had desecrated the royal tombs at the Basilica of Saint-Denis, removing the royals’ remains, decapitating them, and dumping the bodies in mass graves.

Image courtesy of The History Blog.

Then, in 2010, a mummified head belonging to Louis’ 16th century predecessor, Henri IV—who was assassinated in 1610—was identified. The gruesome relic was rescued from the chaos of the desecration of the royal tombs and had changed hands through auctions several times over two centuries; scientists identified it based on radiocarbon dating, 3D scanning, x-rays and portraits of the king painted at the time. According to the History Blog, the scientists sent a fiberscope through Henri’s trachea to collect a tissue sample from inside the mummified head. What they found confirmed that the blood traces inside the squash did belong to Louis XVI:

“They were able to retrieve mitochondrial DNA sequences and a partial profile of the Y-chromosome. The latter contained multiple alleles from the extremely rare haplotype that was found in the blood residue in the gourd. This is strong evidence that the two men were related in the paternal line and provides a DNA boost to the authenticity both of the mummified head and of the blood.”

That rare genetic signature links the two men, who were separated by seven generations. According to forensic pathologist Philippe Charlier, "This study shows that [the remains] share a genetic heritage passed on through the paternal line. They have a direct link to one another through their fathers. One could say that there is absolutely no doubt any more.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images
arrow
Big Questions
What Causes Sinkholes?
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

This week, a sinkhole opened up on the White House lawn—likely the result of excess rainfall on the "legitimate swamp" surrounding the storied building, a geologist told The New York Times. While the event had some suggesting we call for Buffy's help, sinkholes are pretty common. In the past few days alone, cavernous maws in the earth have appeared in Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, and of course Florida, home to more sinkholes than any other state.

Sinkholes have gulped down suburban homes, cars, and entire fields in the past. How does the ground just open up like that?

Sinkholes are a simple matter of cause and effect. Urban sinkholes may be directly traced to underground water main breaks or collapsed sewer pipelines, into which city sidewalks crumple in the absence of any structural support. In more rural areas, such catastrophes might be attributed to abandoned mine shafts or salt caverns that can't take the weight anymore. These types of sinkholes are heavily influenced by human action, but most sinkholes are unpredictable, inevitable natural occurrences.

Florida is so prone to sinkholes because it has the misfortune of being built upon a foundation of limestone—solid rock, but the kind that is easily dissolved by acidic rain or groundwater. The karst process, in which the mildly acidic water wears away at fractures in the limestone, leaves empty space where there used to be stone, and even the residue is washed away. Any loose soil, grass, or—for example—luxury condominiums perched atop the hole in the ground aren't left with much support. Just as a house built on a weak foundation is more likely to collapse, the same is true of the ground itself. Gravity eventually takes its toll, aided by natural erosion, and so the hole begins to sink.

About 10 percent of the world's landscape is composed of karst regions. Despite being common, sinkholes' unforeseeable nature serves as proof that the ground beneath our feet may not be as solid as we think.

A version of this story originally ran in 2014.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
science
DNA Analysis of Loch Ness Could Reveal the Lake's Hidden Creatures
iStock
iStock

Stakeouts, sonar studies, and a 24-hour video feed have all been set up in an effort to confirm the existence of the legendary Loch Ness Monster. Now, the Associated Press reports that an international team of scientists will use DNA analysis to learn what's really hiding in the depths of Scotland's most mysterious landmark.

The team, led by Neil Gemmell, who researches evolutionary genetics at the University of Otago in New Zealand, will collect 300 water samples from various locations and depths around the lake. The waters are filled with microscopic DNA fragments animals leave behind as they swim, mate, eat, poop, and die in the waters, and if Nessie is a resident, she's sure to leave bits of herself floating around as well.

After extracting the DNA from the organic material found in the water samples, the scientists plan to sequence it. The results will then be compared to the DNA profiles of known species. If there's evidence of an animal that's not normally found in the lake, or an entirely new species, the researchers will hopefully spot it.

Gemmell is a Nessie skeptic, and he says the point of the project isn't necessarily to discover new species. Rather, he wants to create a genetic profile of the lake while generating some buzz around the science behind it.

If the study goes according to plan, the database of Loch Ness's inhabitants should be complete by 2019. And though the results likely won't include a long-extinct plesiosaur, they may offer insights about other invasive species that now call the lake home.

[h/t AP]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios