Four-hundred year old king's head identified

Illustration for article titled Four-hundred year old kings head identified

In one of the most hilarious stories of the week, a four-hundred-year old French mummy head has been officially identified as King Henry IV of France. How did researchers figure that out?


Live Science breaks the joyous news that after four centuries, the mummified head of King Henry IV will finally be heading home to France to be entombed. Why the delay? The head needed to be identified by "a team of multidisciplinary experts." Polymaths are always to be admired, and those who figure out scientific mysteries should be doubly so, but the best way to encourage intellectual curiosity is revealing exactly what disciplines each member of this team studied. What better way to get kids to branch out than to reveal that a PhD in French history, an MD, and a summer spent interning at a facility that does carbon dating means one day you'll have a mummified head in your lap. That would get me applying to grad school.

The story goes on to reveal that the head "and its brain contents" had "been in the hands of private owners." This means that someone, somewhere, had a mummified head lying around the house. Furthermore, since the French king's noggin was disinterred and desecrated by French revolutionaries in 1793, the head has been 'in private hands' for some time. Which means that some poor grieving relative walked into a lawyers office clad in black, with downcast eyes, perhaps musing on the fragility and beauty of life, and walked out with a mummified head under their arm.


The researchers identified the head by digitally reconstructing the face, and comparing it with portraits of Henry IV. The digital image and the centuries-old portraits matched, and the head officially got a name. The article says that Henry IV was much-beloved, before revealing that he was assassinated, and that he often gambled his nation's money on games of tennis. He did issue in state-mandated religious tolerance, and historical accounts have him being called 'The Good King Henry' by his subjects. Then again, historical accounts said he was irresistable to women, while the head was shown to belong to a man with bad teeth, moles, and cataracts, so history may have been slightly biased in favor of the immensely powerful monarch. (He was also, it seems, one of those guys who wears one earring.)

The revolutionaries of the 1790s buried his body in a mass grave, so there's little chance of that being recovered. The head, however, will be shown due respect. The head will be interred at Saint-Denis basilica after a 'solemn funeral ceremony' which I'm betting will have to have a light-up 'No Giggling' sign.

Via Live Science.

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I just spent 5 minutes trying to figure out the perfect thing to say about how fucking retarded that digital reconstruction looks. Alas, I've got nothing.