Exhumation of Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe: verification of identity and determination of cause of death

Abstract

Tycho Brahe, noted Danish astronomer and founder of modern astronomy died in Prague in 1691, at the age of 54, and was buried in the Church of the Virgin Mary before Týn. In 2010, at the request of Danish authorities, his remains were exhumed and an investigation into the cause of his death was undertaken, with an aim to addressing speculations of him having been poisoned. This report contains detailed information on the process of the exhumation and results of the subsequent investigation. An anthropological analysis confirmed the authenticity of the remains, that they are actually those of Tycho Brahe, and confirmed the results of an earlier exhumation, done in 1901. Physical chemistry analysis was unable to confirm a lethal or sub-lethal dose of heavy metal poison (Hg). A detailed paleopathological analysis of the skeleton confirmed that Brahe suffered from DISH (diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis), which attends Type II diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity (the metabolic syndrome). From period documents describing Tycho Brahe’s lifestyle and his last days, it seems likely that he died of complications resulting from these conditions, today described as diseases of affluence, also referred to as “Western disease”.

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