A “virtual autopsy” on a mummified 17th-century Austrian newborn has thrown fresh insight into Renaissance infancy — and the relevance of vitamin D to health.
CT scans were utilized to analyze the bones, which were discovered in an aristocratic Austrian family crypt with ideal circumstances for natural mummification.
The youngster was identified as a one-year-old boy who was overweight for his age.
However, his diet did not result in sufficient nutrition for a healthy body, leaving specialists puzzled.
The infant had acute rickets or scurvy, both of which are caused by vitamin D and C deficits.
Rickets had caused the child’s ribs to grow deformed in a pattern known as a “rachitic rosary.” Bone knobs grew at the ends of his ribs, resembling a chain of huge rosary beads beneath the thin skin covering his rib cage.
The scans also indicated that the youngster had pneumonia-related lung inflammation. Because children with rickets are more susceptible to pneumonia, the researchers believe his nutritional insufficiency led to his premature death.
It appears that the aristocratic son was not exposed to direct sunshine, which permits the body to produce its vitamin D supply.
The newborn lacked appropriate solar exposure, which is essential to convert pro-vitamins into functional vitamins, resulting in vitamin D insufficiency, which can lead to bone changes like those found in the infant. So, despite being well-fed — even over-nourished — he was vitamin D deficient.
Today’s infants are fed a more varied, vitamin-rich diet and are not protected from the sun.
The boy had been buried in an expensive silk coat that was long and hooded, according to an examination of his attire. He was also buried in a tomb reserved for the powerful Counts of Starhemberg, who buried their spouses as well as their title-holders, most of whom were firstborn sons.
This indicates that the infant was probably the first-born son of a Count of Starhemberg. His interment was most likely between 1600 and 1635, according to radiocarbon dating and historical evidence. He was the crypt’s only newborn.
Reichard Wilhelm, the newborn with the silk suit, was buried alongside his grandpa, Reichard von Starhemberg. Instead of the lavish metal coffins in which other family members were buried, the infant was buried in an unmarked wooden coffin.
Historians will need to rethink the living conditions of aristocratic newborns.