Forensic Pathology and History

Philippe Charlier is all over the place right now. He recently examined Richard the Lionheart’s heart and found evidence for embalming practices. He also studied a thirteenth-century head that seems to have been embalmed and studied (read that Scientific American with a generous grain of salt).

Charlier’s work shows contemporary scientific analyses can offer interesting and often unique information about the past. Although we have known that dissections occurred during the Middle Ages—see Katharine Park’s “Myth 5. That the Medieval Church Prohibited Human Dissection” in Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths About Science and Religion—analyses like Charlier’s fills in the picture. We learn the types of substances they used to embalm and preserve organs. Such information can help raise questions about knowledge, medical practice, trade, availability of different substances across Europe.