Digging up the body of Tycho Brahe (again)


You're looking at the skull of Tycho Brahe—gifted observational astronomer, failed duelist, legendary partier*—alongside a picture of his skull taken the last time it was exhumed, in 1901. Although the great man has been dead for more than 400 years, his mustache seems to be eerily intact. Researchers from Denmark's Aarhus University dug the body up again this week. Which begs the question: Why is everybody so keen on getting a look at Dead Tycho Brahe?

Turns out, he's one of those historic figures who died under somewhat mysterious circumstances, which people often attribute to murder. The original cause of death was listed as "kidney stones", but none were found in that 1901 exhumation. What they did, reportedly, find: Elevated levels of mercury in that glorious mustache. Now, this doesn't necessarily mean Brahe was poisoned. The 1901 exhumation was fast and dirty, so it's hard to know if they really found what they claimed to find. Plus, like a lot of scientists of his day, Brahe dabbled in alchemy and might have even been taking mercury as medicine. However, that hasn't stopped enthusiastic armchair historians from labeling his death a homicide and, from time to time, pointing the finger at poor Johannes Kepler.

But, while they will probably run some tests for mercury levels, the current researchers aren't particularly interested in how Brahe died. In fact, one told the Prague Post that the mystery will likely never be solved. Instead, this is more of an anthropological mission, dedicated to finding out more about Brahe's life—from his health and childhood illnesses, to what chemicals he was using in his experiments outside the field of astronomy.

*He owned a pet moose, which was great fun at parties. In fact, Brahe used to loan it out as entertainment. That is, until somebody got it so drunk that it fell down the stairs and died. True story. These are the sort of things you learn working at mental_floss.

Lots more pictures of the remains of Tycho Brahe

Transcript of a lecture on the life of Tycho Brahe, including some of the weird bits.

Thanks to gpeare for Submitterating!.

Photo: Jacob C. Ravn, Aarhus University