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Science of Death
Science has a macabre side. Archaeologists and forensic scientists routinely uncover evidence of all sorts of past horrors: Bones gnawed by prehistoric cannibals, the graves of murdered infants, as well as the gruesome transformations that time and decomposition bring, such as bones wrapped in death wax. And don't forget zombie insects, nature's own undead; the neurology of decapitation and near-death experiences. Here's a selection of some of our most delightfully morbid stories, listed in no particular order.
Vampire PlagueSlide 2 of 21
There's nothing like archaeology to dig up ancient tales of death, disease and torment. This particular discovery, of the skull of a woman with a rock shoved in her mouth was found among 16th-century plague victims in a mass grave on the Venetian island of Lazzaretto Nuovo.
In 1576, the Venetian plague killed up to 50,000 people. Without the benefit of science, people found other explanations, including vampires. Gravediggers believed this woman was among them, and put the rock in her mouth.
In the absence of medical science, vampires were just one of many possible contemporary explanations for the spread of the Venetian plague in 1576, which ran rampant through the city and ultimately killed up to 50,000 people, some officials estimate. [Read full story]Slide 3 of 21
Perfect Site for a HauntingSlide 4 of 21
Perfect Site for a Haunting
In 1912, excavators in the English countryside unearthed the remains of dozens of babies — the exact number isn't clear — who died at birth and were buried on the grounds of a Roman-era villa about 1,800 years ago. The remains then disappeared for almost a century before an archaeologist discovered them packed into boxes that once held loose cigarettes and gun cartridge boxes in a museum archive. An examination of 35 of the remains revealed that most were 38 to 40 weeks old at the time of death — a pattern than suggests infanticide. [Read full story]Slide 5 of 21
The Ravages of TimeSlide 6 of 21
The Ravages of Time
After death, a new story begins: decomposition. And the breakdown of our bodies can take some odd turns, as archaeologists and forensic scientists know. Under certain conditions, fat in the body's soft tissue morphs into a hardy soap-like substance, called adipocere, which acts as a preservative.
In 1997, a headless corpse, wrapped in adipocere and dusted with a blue mineral, turned up floating in a bay of Lake Brienz in Switzerland. At first, investigator Michael Thali, now at the University of Zurich, guessed it to be a few months or possibly years old. After sawing away the adipocere to investigate, he and his colleagues found preserved organs, including a digestive track containing cherry pits; and after examining the remains, they concluded the body was a man who lived as much as 300 years ago. [Read full story]Slide 7 of 21
Zombie AntsSlide 8 of 21