What is a fetus doing inside the coffin of a 17th century mummified bishop?
Researchers at Lund University hospital were in for a surprise when they conducted a CT scan of a mummified Scandinavian bishop, and spotted the remains of a tiny fetus tucked under the bishop’s feet. The mummy belongs to Bishop Peder Winstrup, a prominent historical figure in Scandinavia who died in 1679. Archaeologists have been speculating as to the reason for the fetus’ placement in Winstrup’s coffin.
Discovery News reports that the finding was made when testing was carried out on Winstrup’s remains in the hope of learning more about the health and lives of people in Medieval Scandinavia.
“Peder Winstrup, a bishop and prominent historical figure in Scandinavia, was one of the founding fathers of Lund University,” reports Lund University in a press release . “He died in 1679 and was buried in the famous cathedral in Lund a year later. The coffin, together with its contents, constitutes a unique time capsule from the year 1679 with a well-preserved body, textiles and plant material.”
- A 7,700-year-old case of death during childbirth is uncovered in Siberia
- The mummified monk inside a Buddha statue
- The Mummy of Christian Friedrich von Kahlbutz, the Not So Chivalrous Knight
Portrait of Peder Jensen Winstrup, 1750 ( Wikimedia Commons )
Lund University reports that Winstrup’s remains had become naturally mummified as a result of “constant air flow, the plant material in the coffin, a long period of illness resulting in the body becoming lean, death and burial during the winter months of December‒January and the general climate and temperature conditions in the cathedral”.
Scanning revealed that Winstrup suffered numerous physical ailments including tuberculosis, pneumonia, atherosclerosis, gallstones, osteoarthritis, and a shoulder injury.
During the scan of Winstrup’s mummified remains, researchers spotted something highly unusual – the remains of a tiny fetus tucked under the bishop’s feet.
The coffin of Peder Winstrup, which was found to contain a fetus ( Wikimedia Commons )
“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 5 to 6-month old fetus,” said Per Karsten, Museum Director of Lund University’s Historical Museum.
Karsten speculated that the fetus may either be a relation of Winstrup, or may have been an illegitimate child that was placed there by someone unrelated to him, who wanted to sneak the infant remains into his coffin in order to receive a proper burial.
“It has been deliberately concealed under his feet at the bottom of the coffin,” said Karsten. “Maybe there is a connection between Winstrup and this child, but I think it is more appropriate to think that he has been concealed by some other members of the bishop’s staff when organizing his funeral,” he added.
Computer imaging showing the remains of the fetus inside the tomb of Peder Winstrup. ( YouTube Screengrab / Lund University )
A DNA analysis is now going to be carried out on the fetus and the bishop to determine whether there is any blood relation between them. Should the fetus be identified as the offspring of the 74-year-old bishop, the results could be quite scandalous.
The remains of Peder Winstrup and his tiny companion will be reburied once the testing has concluded. A video of the research can be viewed below.
Featured image: The mummified remains of the 17th-century bishop, Peder Winstrup. ( YouTube Screengrab / Lund University )