Bones of Danish Astronomer Tycho Brahe May Yield Clues to His Death
This close-up photo shows the exhumed skull of famed Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, who died in 1601, as it was analyzed by archaeologists on Nov. 17, 2010 before being reburied. His mustache is also visible.
CREDIT: Jacob C. Ravn, Aarhus University [Full Story]
The bones of 16th century astronomer Tycho Brahe were reburied today (Nov. 19) after nearly a week of analysis by archaeologists hoping to find clues to the celebrated Danish scientist's medical history and sudden death. ?
A team of Danish and Czech archaeologists, doctors, chemists and medical anthropologists is overseeing the Tycho Brahe project, which hopes to use DNA testing and other modern diagnostic tools to learn as much as possible about Brahe's medical history, life and untimely death.
They exhumed Brahe's remains from a tomb at the Church of Our Lady Before T?n (also known as T?n Church) in Prague on Monday (Nov. 15) and spent four days analyzing the astronomer's skull and other bones, as well as scraps of his burial suit and mustache. [Photo: Skull of Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe]
Brahe was buried in the tomb after his death in 1601.The grave was exhumed once before in 1901.
Work on the Tycho Brahe Project is under way at several locations in Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic. A CT scan was performed on Brahe's bones before the skeletal remains were returned to the laboratory at the Czech National Museum, where they were photographed thoroughly.
Physical descriptions of the remains were also made by medical anthropologists, in addition to preparatory work for investigations to be carried out at a later date.
Brahe was a prolific astronomer best known for making the most accurate measurements of stars and planets without the aid of a telescope.
During his career, he catalogued more than 1,000 stars, discovering a new star in the constellation Cassiopeia (actually a supernova explosion) in 1527, proving that comets are objects in space and not in Earth's atmosphere. He also hired another famous scientist ? Johannes Kepler ? as his assistant, according to NASA records.
Brahe is also known for having a silver prosthetic nose piece after losing part of his own nose in a duel. [Top 10 Mad Scientists]
Historians had long thought that Brahe died of a bladder infection, but recent tests have suggested that mercury poisoning may have been the cause of his death, according to media reports. The samples collected from Brahe's remains could help settle that question.
Brahe was 54 years old at the time of his death.
The remains of several other individuals have been discovered in the crypt, and Czech archaeologists are carrying out tests on what they think could be a small number of Brahe's wife's bones, who was buried at the astronomer's side in 1604, three years after his own death.
The condition of Brahe's remains, which had been undisturbed for 109 years, were unknown to the project scientists before the exhumation. Over the course of the week the researchers found Brahe's burial garments were in better condition than expected.
The team is interested in recovering shreds of Brahe's burial suit, which could allow them to reconstruct the astronomer's aristocratic outfit in patterned silk.
"We are already able to state that the clothes were not his usual clothes but a costume made specially for the burial, as the seams consist of very large stitches," said research team leader Jens Vellev of Aarhus University in Arhus, Denmark.
Today, Brahe's bones were due to be placed back inside the well-preserved tin coffin and resealed at the laboratory. A ceremony was planned to mark the reburial of the astronomer at T?n Church.
"We look forward to the ceremony on Friday, where we are likely to see many guests from both the Czech Republic and Denmark," Vellev said.
The service will be conducted by the archbishop of Prague, and the Danish minister of Ecclesiastical Affairs, Birthe R?nn Hornbech, was expected to give a speech about Brahe.
The results from the Tycho Brahe project will be released sometime in 2011.
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