At the end of October 2022, the results of an exciting study were published in the journal Borders about a natural child mummy which is in Austria. The virtual autopsy of the tiny, hundreds-of-years-old body has allowed researchers to learn more about his health during his lifetime. The little boy, whose age at the time of death was determined to be between 10 and 18 months, is not a priori not just anyone since his remains are in the crypt of the Tales of Starhemberg. On the other hand, his living conditions remain obscure.
The crypt in the village of Hellmonsödt houses the bodies of the Starhemberg family, one of the oldest aristocratic families in Austria. The latter were carefully buried at this place from the 15the century. All the deceased are identified by their names except for a small child buried in the crypt. This child, naturally mummified, is not associated with any surname or first name. The researchers, after having been authorized by the local Diocese to carry out a study, wished to know more about him.
The child was buried dressed in a high quality silk coat attesting to his birth in a family of high social status. No trace of incision or manipulation was spotted on the child’s mummified skin, proving that there was no voluntary act of mummification. Thanks to a CT scan, it was possible to learn more about the body without damaging it. A tiny sample of soft tissue was taken to define its composition and the result is clear: the child had a large mass of adipose tissue, in other words fat. As for his skeleton seen thanks to the non-invasive images, it nevertheless reveals that he was rickety. How to explain this rickets when the child seemed well nourished?
Who is this child and what was his life like?
As the research team points out, it is difficult to understand the life of young children of these times, since the number of small bodies available to research is not large enough to conduct in-depth studies. This mummy is an exceptional case to try to find out more. The second stage of this research was carried out on the side of the archives in order to determine the possible identity of the child. By comparing the Carbon 14 dating result and church records, the team spotted a few names of children who died at a similar age that might match. One individual stands out, Reichard Wilhelm born and died between 1625 and 1626, first son of Erasmus der Jüngere. And the reasons for rickets despite a good diet seem to correspond to a complete lack of exposure to light and sun. In view of the results, pneumonia prevailed.
These results raise questions about the educational conditions of this child who obviously has not seen enough light during his life. A condition that was probably the cause of his death at an early age. Were his parents afraid of aggravating his health by exposing him to the outside? Were they too protective of their baby? On the other hand, it is impossible to generalize about the living conditions of the children of the aristocracy of that time. For that, we would have to find more remains from the same period to have an edifying panel of cases. The opportunity to remember that a body study is not insignificant since it is an individual who has lived and who must continue to be cared for in research and conservation.