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Forensic drama! The mummified head of King Henry IV is at the center of a forensic clash.

Photo via of the mummified head.

Photo via of the mummified head.

Let’s go back to the beginning…

At the center of this debate is the mummified head that some believe belongs to French King Henry IV (1553-1610).  The beloved king from the House of Bourbon was assassinated by a religious fanatic in 1610, and he was buried at Saint Denis near Paris.  The monarch was separated from his head during the French Revolution (1787-1799), when the royal tombs at Saint Denis were ransacked, and grave robbers beheaded the long dead king.  The head remained missing until 1919, when an antiques dealer purchased it at an auction, at that point it disappeared into a private collection

In 2010 Philippe Charlier, a forensic medical examiner at Poincare University Hospital in France, lead a team of 19 scientists who ran numerous forensic tests and published their work.  Chalier et al. claimed they positively identified the head as belonging to King Henri IV using CT imaging, computer tomography, and digital facial reconstruction.  Among other things, a mushroom-like growth on his nose, healed wounds, and evidence of a pierced right ear were consistent with King Henry IV.   The MailOnline has long article written in 2010 about the research.

Photo via the DailyMail of a combination digital image of a reconstruction of the face France’s King Henri IV is seen, left, and his skull with the reconstruction overlaid is seen at right.

Earlier this month, Jean-Jacques Cassiman, an emeritus professor at the University of Leuven in Belgium coauthored a study in the European Journal of Human Genetics.  They conducted genetic testing on samples of mummified tissue taken from the head in question, and compared the results to DNA samples given by three male descendants of the House of Bourbon. The Belgium team found no genetic similarities between the three descendants and the DNA from the head.

In light of these test results, two members of Charlier’s 2010 team, French pathologist Geoffroy Lorin de la Grandmaison and Leslie Eisenberg, an American forensic anthropologist, defected and cowrote a letter urging the retraction of the 2010 study.  They wrote “The retraction of the article is now justified, as a rigorous scientific anthropological study should have excluded the hypothesis (and the findings) that the head belonged to [Henri].”

But Charlier remains defiant.  How can he argue with the DNA evidence?  Charlier maintains that there are numerous doubts about the paternity of various kings in the Bourbon line because of extramarital affairs, which would explain why there was no DNA match of modern-day descendants and the ancient head.

I feel like a broken record at this point, but this seems like simple enough question to answer definitively.  I know it’s easier said than done, but open King Henry IV’s tomb and see if the head is still there.  If the head is missing, take DNA samples from the remains in the tomb and compare those with samples taken from the head, if they match, voila!


LA Times

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