Modern-day science reveals secrets of past millenniums


The identification of King Richard III’s skeleton is the latest coup by forensic scientists who use radiocarbon-dating, DNA analysis, 3-D scanning and other high-tech tools to unlock the secrets of the long dead. Other famous cases include:

“Oetzi” the Iceman: In 1991, hikers in the Oetztal Alps in Italy’s Tyrol region found the mummified remains of a man who had been extraordinarily preserved by the ice.

Since then, scientists have discovered that “Oetzi” lived 5,300 years ago, died at the age of about 45, was 1.60 meters tall, weighed 50 kg, had brown eyes and brown hair . . . and was probably allergic to milk products. He was shot in the back with an arrow but lived for some time after his fatal wound, according to atomic microscope images of blood cells.

Louis XVI: In December 2012, scientists from Spain and France authenticated the remains of a rag said to have been dipped in the blood of France’s last absolute monarch after his beheading in January 1793.

They linked DNA found in the sample, kept in an ornately decorated vegetable gourd, to another gruesome artifact: a mummified head believed to belong to Louis’ predecessor Henry IV.

The rare shared genetic signature gave firm evidence for authenticating both sets of remains.

Henry IV: The revolution in which Louis and Queen Marie Antoinette lost their heads also saw mobs ransack the royal chapel at Saint-Denis, north of Paris. Ancient monarchs like Henry were hauled from their tombs, defiled and thrown into a pit.

An individual was recorded to have rescued a severed head from the chaos, allegedly that of “Good King Henry,” famous for promoting religious tolerance but assassinated by a Catholic fanatic in 1610.

In 2010, scientists found proof that the head was Henry’s, citing physical features that matched 16th-century portraits, radiocarbon dating, 3-D scanning and X-rays.

Ramses III: Scientists said last December that an assassin had slit the throat of Egypt’s last great pharaoh at the climax of a succession battle.

Hieroglyphs show that the wife and son of Ramses, who ruled from 1187-1156 B.C., were convicted of plotting his death.

No evidence had existed that the plan was carried out until the experts announced last year that computed tomography imaging of the mummy revealed the pharaoh’s windpipe and major arteries were slashed.

Napoleon: For years, maverick historians in France argued that Napoleon Bonaparte had been poisoned by his English captors during his final exile on the Atlantic island of St. Helena.

Scientists from Switzerland, Canada and the U.S. pored over a doctor’s diagnosis of the patient and an autopsy conducted after the emperor died. The verdict in 2007 matched that of 1821: “Boney” died of stomach cancer brought on by an ulcer.

Joan of Arc: Bones venerated as the remains of France’s patron saint in fact came from an Egyptian mummy and a cat, renowned pathologist Philippe Charlier found in 2007.

He enlisted the help of two top “noses” in the French perfume industry to help his investigation.

They smelled hints of vanilla in the relics — a useful tip, as the molecule vanillin is produced when a body decomposes, thus the remains were not from someone who had been burned.