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King Lionheart’s heart undergoes forensic exam

Researchers have analysed 2 grams of material taken from the the heart of King Richard I, known as King Lionheart.

For their analysis of Richard’s embalmed heart published today in Scientific Reports2, Charlier and his team took just 2 grams of the heart’s powdered remains and subjected it to a battery of tests. Scanning electron microscopy identified pollen grains from myrtle, mint and other known embalming plants, as well as poplar and bellflower, which were in bloom when the king died.

Elemental analysis turned up high concentrations of calcium, suggesting that lime may have been used as a preservative. Mass spectrometry identified organic molecules characteristic of creosote and frankincense, both used for preserving tissue.

The scientists also found bacteria, although none could be related to Richard’s cause of death. “We were surprised to get so much information,” says Charlier. He believes that this is the first forensic analysis of an embalmed heart ever done and the first physical evidence of ancient embalming using frankincense.

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Story: Mark Peplow, Nature | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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