The body of Bishop Peder Winstrup, laid to rest at the cathedral in Lund almost 350 years ago, has revealed more than ever before. Scientists were hoping to use modern science to learn from an unusually well-preserved body, but they found a hidden child under the bishop’s feet.

A CT scan revealed a small child buried under layers of herbs in Winstrup’s coffin. Explains Per Karsten, director of the historical museum at Lund University:

One of the main discoveries when we conducted the CT scanning was that Mr. Winstrup is not alone in the coffin. Actually, he has a companion, a small child, a five- to six-month-old fetus of a human child, and it has been deliberately concealed under his feet at the bottom of the coffin – so maybe there is a connection between Winstrup and this child. But I think it’s more appropriate to think that he’s been concealed by some other members of the bishop’s staff when organizing his funeral.

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Per Karsten added that they hoped DNA testing would determine if the child was related to the bishop or if someone with access to Winstrup’s coffin merely took the opportunity to have an illegitimate child buried in sanctified ground.

In addition to this unique find, Winstrup’s body is interesting to scientists because it was not embalmed, but mummified naturally. The clothes are preserved and his face is even still recognizable when compared to existing portraits. A perfect storm of factors contributed to the preservation: conditions of the cathedral, constant air flow to the body and coffin, a layer of plants in the coffin, Winstrup’s lean body, and Winstrup’s death and burial happening in the winter. If Winstrup’s body had not been so well preserved, it would not have been chosen for a CT scan and his companion might never have been found.

A video from Lund University about the research on Winstrup’s body

Karsten says of Winstrup’s continuing historical importance:

We can now observe that Winstrup’s mummy is one of the best-preserved bodies from Europe in the 1600s, with an information potential well in line with that offered by Ötzi the ice man or Egyptian mummies. His remains constitute a unique archive of medical history on the living conditions and health of people living in the 1600s.

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The scans have shown that Winstrup had gallstones, which could indicate a diet of fatty foods, and tooth decay possibly resulting from sugar. Along with DNA testing of the child’s body, tissue samples from the bishop’s organs will be examined, as will the herbs and clothing. Then both the bishop and his small companion will be re-buried.

[via The Guardian]


Contact the author at katharine@io9.com.

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