Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The day before death

A new archaeological technique gives insight into the day before death.

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The day before the child's death was not a pleasant one, because it was not a sudden injury that killed the 10-13 year old child who was buried in the medieval town of Ribe in Denmark 800 years ago. The day before death was full of suffering because the child had been given a large dose of mercury in an attempt to cure a severe illness.

This is now known to chemist Kaare Lund Rasmussen from University of Southern Denmark – because he and his colleagues have developed a new methodology that can reveal an unheard amount of details from very shortly before a person's death. Mercury is of particular interest for the archaeologists as many cultures in different part of the world have been in contact with this rare element.

"I cannot say which diseases the child had contracted. But I can say that it was exposed to a large dose of mercury a couple of months before its death and again a day or two prior to death. You can imagine what happened: that the family for a while tried to cure the child with mercury containing medicine which may or may not have worked, but that the child's condition suddenly worsened and that it was administered a large dose of mercury which was, however, not able to save its life", says Kaare Lund Rasmussen.

The detailed insight into the life of the child did not come from analyses of the child's bones. Instead Kaare Lund Rasmussen...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.