This is the lead box that contained Richard the Lionheart's embalmed heart. If you want to see what a heart looks like after 800 years — or at least learn about how people in medieval times made souvenirs out of corpses — go ahead and click this story.

Most of us know Richard the Lionheart as the good guy who occasionally comes in at the very end of Robin Hood movies. He was an English king who spent very, very little time in England, and a lot of time fighting wars far from English shores. In 1199, he was fighting the French when he was hit with projectile from an arbalest, a crossbow. Twelve days later he was dead, probably a victim of gangrene.


His subjects proceeded to rip apart his body, which is not as odd as it seems. "Partition" of a body, with different body parts being preserved and sent to different sites (or people) was pretty common back them. In fact, it was a status symbol It showed that a person was rich enough to afford it, and important enough that other people would consider it worthwhile to keep their leftover liver. Richard's heart was embalmed, put in a box, and stored in a cathedral in Rouen. Time being what it is, the heart was lost and the cathedral was in ruins when a historian re-discovered the heart in 1838. In 2013, scientists analyzed the heart. They were more interested in the embalming process than the heart itself, which by this time was a "brownish-whitish powder."

What the scientists found in the powdered heart remains was a combination of plant and mineral material. Some of the plant material was probably contamination from the air; other parts of the material were more likely to be deliberate applications of plants like myrtle intended to dry the heart out and preserve it from bacteria. As you can see, the bacteria won, in the end.

According to the report:

The optical and scanning electron microscopic analysis showed the presence of various pollen grains: myrtle, daisy, mint, pine, oak, poplar, plantain, bell-flower. . . . Elemental analyses revealed large amounts of lead and tin, and traces of copper, mercury, and antimony. Calcium may have been added during the embalming process, as the very slight amount of associated aluminium would eliminate an environmental origin (i.e. a soil contamination): indeed, lime (calcium oxide or hydroxide) is known as disinfectant and desiccant, and such properties justify its use during an embalming, in association with other products, including plants.

If you want to check out the complete report, you can look at it here.

[Source: The Embalmed Heart of Richard the Lionheart.]