Tycho Brahe to be exhumed
Body of Denmark’s most famous astronomer will be dug up in Prague to determine true cause of death
The riddle of the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe's death in 1601 may now have a good chance of being solved
Prague's cultural department has finally given researchers permission to open the tomb of Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, which lies in the city’s Tyn Cathedral.
A group of Danish and Czech experts will therefore soon be able to carry out detailed analyses of the astronomer’s bone, hair and clothing remains to find the answer to a centuries-old mystery as to whether he was murdered.
Although historians have generally attributed his death to either bladder problems or kidney stones, some believed he may have been poisoned. Many researchers now believe he probably died of mercury poisoning – either accidentally or deliberately by another’s hand.
The issue was revived in recent years, after a Swedish professor discovered a diary in which Tycho Brahe's distant relative, Erik Brahe, claimed that the astronomer was poisoned.
Researchers had been trying for years to get the go-ahead from Prague’s city council for the exhumation.
‘I'm really glad that all the people involved in this project can now see that our meetings, emails, letters and telephone calls have not been in vain,’ archaeologist Jens Vellev, who will lead the Danish research team, told Politiken newspaper.
Vellev’s day job is as associate professor in the University of Aarhus’ Department of Medieval and Renaissance Archaeology. He has been interested in Tycho Brahe’s life and death for many years, and he said it was a long and difficult process to get the approval.
Not only did the team have to deal with the Catholic Church, which owns Tyn Cathedral, but it also had to get clearance from the city council, because the building is a national monument administered by the cultural administration.
After initial resistance, the team believed it would be given permission to perform the exhumation last May. But it was only this week that the official okay was finally given.
Vellev expects to start analyses of the body in November. He has high expectations that with modern methods, the study will shed light on Brahe's ultimate cause of death.
‘The very opening of the grave is obviously something significant. But for archaeologists, anthropologists and other scientists, the subsequent work will be just as interesting,’ Vellev said.
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