This woman was pregnant when she died, she gave birth in her grave

The story the Objeko editorial team is telling you today is absolutely extraordinary. Don’t let the title fool you, this is a story that took place centuries ago. In 2018, an ancient medieval tomb was excavated near Bologna, Italy. It contained a pregnant woman with a head injury, but not only. The young woman had a fetus between her legs. Thanks to the positioning of the bones, the researchers were able to determine that a “coffin birth” occurs when a baby is forcibly removed from the body after the death of its mother. We give you all the details of this discovery in this article.

The incredible story of this pregnant woman who was buried with her fetus

This is an absolutely fascinating and very rare find. The tomb in question, which dates from the 7th to 8th centuries AD, was found in 2010 at Imola near Bologna in northern Italy. Archaeologists have determined it was a burial based on its location. They could easily determine that the bones found belonged to a woman with a head wound. Tiny bones between her legs leave no doubt: she was pregnant when she was buried. However, the fetus between her legs and the head injury required a thorough investigation recently published in the journal World Neurosurgery by researchers from the Universities of Ferrara and Bologna.

Based on the length of the femur bone, the researchers first determined that the fetus was around 38 weeks gestation. The baby’s head and torso were located under the pregnant woman’s pelvic cavity. The leg bones were still inside though. This seems to indicate that the confinement must have taken place shortly before death. This is a very rare case in contemporary forensic literature. And more in the bioarchaeology file. This could be a case of post-mortem expulsion of the fetus or coffin birth. Bioarcheology Siân Halcrow from the University of Otago, New Zealand, explains this phenomenon to us. When a pregnant woman dies, the gas produced by the body’s normal decomposition sometimes accumulates to the point that the fetus is forcibly expelled.

An interesting detail about the pregnant woman

From an archaeological point of view, this pregnant woman who expelled her fetus after death is rare and interesting. But the mother’s health makes him quite unique. His head injury is key to the researchers’ interest. She actually had a small spot on her forehead and a 5mm round hole right next to it. According to the researchers, these are signs of trepanation, an ancient form of skull surgery.

The young pregnant woman was trepanned and survived at least a week after her first operation. In the article published in the journal World Neurosurgery, the Italian researchers suggest a link between the mother’s surgery and her pregnancy: eclampsia. “Because trephination was previously used in the treatment of hypertension to lower blood pressure in the skull, we hypothesized that this lesion might be associated with treatment of a hypertensive pregnancy disorder.».

What is eclampsia?

Eclampsia is the occurrence of seizures in a pregnant woman with pregnancy-related high blood pressure. And especially a few centuries ago, this condition was probably a common cause of maternal death. A pregnant woman suffering from fever, cramps and headaches in the early Middle Ages could well have been trepanned. “Given the characteristics of the wound and the late pregnancy, our hypothesis is that the pregnant woman suffered from eclampsia and was then treated with frontal trepanation to reduce intracranial pressure.‘ the researchers note.

Unfortunately, if the researchers’ conclusions are correct, the mother’s condition did not improve, and she was buried still pregnant in a stone-lined tomb. Her body decomposed, her deceased fetus was then partially expelled.

A testimony to the practices of medicine

This pregnant woman died a very long time ago from her illness or maybe even from her surgery. However, these very crude medical practices have been around for many centuries. Modern medicine is much newer than you might think!

Medical practices have existed since prehistoric times. The trepanation of these poor pregnant women is also a very old healing method. Knowledge of anatomy, however, remained patchy for just as long. Medicine has developed empirically. Surgery only really took off in the 19th century. Above all, we note the advent of vaccines and antiseptics that allow patients to survive their injuries.


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