Researchers find a mummified green hand of a human baby buried in the medieval cemetery in southern Hungary. Along with it is the discovery of an unusual method of mummification.
When scientists first discovered the mummified baby hand in 2005, they were stumped as to how the child's remains turned green. Now, more than a decade after making their discovery, biological anthropologist Janos Balazs of the University of Szeged has finally cracked the code of the mysterious mummified baby hand.
Balazs and his colleague and translator Zsolt Bereczki, also an anthropological biologist, first discovered the mummified remains of a baby at a medieval cemetery in Nyarlonic, a village in southern Hungary.
Mummified Green Baby Hand
More than 500 graves dating back to 1200 and 1600 were discovered in the archaeological excavation. However, none of them contained mummified remains and were tinged with green.
The remains were so small that it could have been mistaken for that of a rat. The baby's right hand was still covered in green flesh, but the bones of other parts were also green. These include the child's hip bone, leg bones, and the bones of each forearm. Balazs estimates that the child would have been 11 to 13 inches long and weighed 1 to 2 pounds.
At present, the discovery is on display at Hungary's More Ferenc Museum in Szeged.
The researchers have postulated earlier that the mummified hand may have somehow come in contact with some sort of metal, most likely copper. Green bones are not that unusual. In fact, researchers have previously uncovered human remains colored green because of their exposure to copper.
The Merovingian ruler Queen Arnegunde, for example, was found in her sarcophagus with one of her lungs preserved due to the presence of a copper belt. As far back as 1888, researchers found the preserved brain of a Native American whose head was covered by a piece of copper from ear to ear.
A chemical analysis of the baby's remains shows extremely high concentrations of copper. The researchers say they have never seen such high amounts of copper in a mummy before.
They did not know how exactly this happened until Balazs found that other objects where the mummy was found were housed in a nearby museum.
Completing The Puzzle
The researchers also found the missing pieces of the puzzle, which took them more than 10 years to complete. Balazs discovered a small ceramic pot where, he believes, the child was placed before burial, including a corroded copper coin that was placed on the baby's right hand. The child was most likely in a crouching position, which would explain why other parts of its skeleton are also green.
Some early cultures bury their dead with coins, believing that they would help pay for their passage into the afterlife. However, the Kreuzer or the copper coin that was buried with the child was used from 1858 to 1862. This means that the child would have been buried far after the medieval graveyard was abandoned. The early Christians of that time were not recorded to practice the same tradition.
Balazs speculates that someone must have given birth to a stillborn baby or a premature baby who died quickly after birth. In accordance with some unknown practice, someone placed a Kreuzer into the baby's hand, probably in the hopes that it would pay for a baptism at the gates of heaven.
"They kind of succeeded at saving not necessarily the soul, but some kind of legacy of this little kid," says Bereczki, "because here we are still talking about the baby and the circumstances of its burial 150 years later."
The study is published in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.