CLOSE
Fatima-Zohra Mokrane
Fatima-Zohra Mokrane

The 400-Year-Old Hearts Within These Urns Had Heart Disease

Fatima-Zohra Mokrane
Fatima-Zohra Mokrane

Last year archaeologists from France's National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research discovered five heart-shaped lead urns in upper-class burial vaults in the basement of the Convent of the Jacobins in Rennes, France. The graves dated back to the late 16th or early 17th century.

It turned out those heart shapes were meant to be interpreted quite literally: Each urn contained an embalmed human heart.

Hervé Paitier, Inrap

A team of radiologists performed archaeological heart exams on the five. While one heart was healthy and another was too poorly preserved to study, the remaining three revealed what we tend to think of as a very modern affliction: heart disease. Specifically, they found plaque on the coronary arteries.

Ironically, while the embalming preserved the hearts, it also hampered the researchers' analysis of them. "We tried to see if we could get health information from the hearts in their embalmed state, but the embalming material made it difficult," study author and radiologist Fatima-Zohra Mokrane, of the University Hospital in Toulouse, said in a press statement. "We needed to take necessary precautions to conduct the research carefully in order to get all possible information."

While initial MRI and CT scans of the heart were intriguing, researchers knew they'd get a much better view of the interiors if they removed the embalming material. Once that was done, they rehydrated the tissue, then rescanned the hearts. The second round of MRI and CT scans revealed different heart structures, including chambers, valves, and coronary arteries—and allowed them to make their diagnosis.

The findings were presented yesterday at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Dan Kitwood, Getty Images
arrow
This Just In
Flights Grounded After World War II Bomb Discovered Near London City Airport
Dan Kitwood, Getty Images
Dan Kitwood, Getty Images

London City Airport grounded all flights on the night of February 11, after a World War II bomb was found in the neighboring River Thames, The Guardian reports.

The half-ton bomb was revealed Sunday morning by development work taking place at the King George V Dock. Following its discovery, police set up a 702-foot exclusion zone around the area, closing local roads and shutting down the London City Airport until further notice. According to the BBC, 261 trips were scheduled to fly in and out of London City Airport on Monday. Some flights are being rerouted to nearby airports, while others have been canceled altogether.

The airport will reopen as soon as the explosive device has been safely removed. For that to happen, the Met police must first wait for the river's tide to recede. Then, once the bomb is exposed, they can dislodge it from the riverbed and tow it to a controlled explosion site.

The docks of London’s East End were some of the most heavily bombed points in the city during World War II. Germany’s Blitz lasted 76 nights, and as the latest unexpected discovery shows, bombs that never detonated are still being cleaned up from parks and rivers more than 75 years later.

[h/t The Guardian]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Archaeologists Say They May Have Found the Skeleton of the Pirate "Black Sam" Bellamy
iStock
iStock

The skeleton of a famous pirate dead for more than three centuries may have been discovered. This week, researchers in Massachusetts announced they'd found a human skeleton near the wreck of a ship that went down off the coast of Cape Cod in 1717—and they think it just might be the remains of New England's greatest pirate, Samuel "Black Sam" Bellamy.

Born to a poor English family in 1689, Bellamy joined the British navy at age 13. Following the War of Spanish Succession, Bellamy relocated to Massachusetts in 1715.

It's said that Bellamy fell in love with a local beauty named Maria Hallett, whose parents didn't want their daughter marrying a lowly sailor. This bit of folklore might be baseless—although historians do know that a young woman with that name did live in Eastham, Mass. at the time. But in any case, Bellamy soon left the colony to pursue a get-rich scheme.

He and a friend had learned that a treasure-laden Spanish fleet had recently sunk near the Florida Keys, so the duo promptly headed south. After failing to salvage any loot, Bellamy turned to a life of piracy, gathering a crew, acquiring a couple of sailing canoes, and heading out into the open seas. He had a real knack for the work: He captured more than 50 ships from 1716 to 1717. Forbes magazine has calculated that all the loot Bellamy seized would be worth $120 million in modern U.S. dollars.


Gold recovered from wreck of the Whydah.
Theodore Scott, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Despite the dark nickname bestowed by others—and his considerable net worth—Bellamy hated wealthy elites with a passion and liked to call himself the "Robin Hood of the Sea".

The flagship of Bellamy's fleet was the 300-ton Whydah, a former British slave vessel. In 1717, the pirate took the ship up to New England. Then, on April 26, 1717, a wicked storm sank the Whydah off the coast of Wellfleet. Most of the crew—including Bellamy—went down with it.

In 1984, marine explorer Barry Clifford and his diving team found the ship's wreckage. More than 200,000 artifacts from the site have since been taken ashore. To give them a proper home, Clifford established the Whydah Pirate Museum in West Yarmouth in 2016.

This past November, researchers at the museum found part of a human skeleton inside a hardened block of sediment they'd taken from the Whydah's general area a few years ago. The slab also contained a belt, some cufflinks, and—most interestingly—a pistol. According to an Associated Press report, this gun is believed to have been Bellamy's.

Forensic scientists at the University of New Haven plan to compare DNA from the bones against that of a living Bellamy descendant in England. Whether the skeleton turns out to be the famous captain's or somebody else's, though, it'll most likely be interred—eventually. On February 19, the bones will be on display during a press conference.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios