An aristocratic toddler who died of pneumonia was the 17th-century mummy’s final victim, according to a virtual autopsy.

An aristocratic toddler who died of pneumonia was the 17th-century mummy's final victim, according to a virtual autopsy

An aristocratic toddler who died of pneumonia was the 17th-century mummy’s final victim, according to a virtual autopsy

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Toddler Mummy

Following a “virtual autopsy,” the cause of death of a toddler who had been mummified has been discovered about 400 years after his death.

The boy was discovered mummified, with his soft tissue preserved, buried in a wooden coffin inside an Austrian family crypt.

A CT scan of his body revealed obvious symptoms of pneumonia and vitamin D inadequacy, and radiocarbon dating was done on the tissue and skin to provide a range of death dates.

His ancestry was also disclosed by historical records, which indicated that he was a member of the aristocratic Starhemberg family, one of the Counts of the 17th century.

Reichard Wilhelm, who died in 1625 or 1626, is most likely the boy, according to the German experts at the Academic Clinic Munich-Bogenhausen.

The newborn was most likely [the count’s] firstborn son after the construction of the family vault, thus additional care may have been provided, according to our data, said the study’s lead author Dr. Andreas Nerlich.

In a silk coat, the child mummy from the Hellmonsödt crypt was discovered buried in a wooden coffin.

The boy’s tissue was maintained by the burial process and mummification to the point that it could be examined by cutting-edge technology to learn more about his life and passing.

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Representative Picture
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Representative Picture
A CT scan of his body revealed obvious indications of pneumonia and vitamin D insufficiency (see image). A skeleton reconstruction in three dimensions. B: A tomogram slice displaying the rosary of the costochondral junction in the ribs, which is suggestive of rickets
(thin arrows).


An old and illustrious noble family with Upper Austrian roots—specifically Steyr and Steinbach—goes by the name of Starhemberg.

They began as Empire Counts in 1643 and were promoted to princely status in 1765.

Family members held significant political positions both in the Holy Roman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Count Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg (1638–1701), a statesman, field marshal, and commander of the Vienna city defense against the Turks in 1683, is one of the more notable members.

Reichard Wilhelm’s great, great grandpa was an Austrian nobleman named Erasmus of Starhemberg (1503–1561).

One of Austria’s oldest aristocratic families, the Counts of Starhemberg’s crypt is near to their home at Wildberg Castle in the community of Hellmonsödt.

All of the family members were interred in ornately decorated metal coffins in the crypt, with the exception of one child who was laid to rest in an unmarked wooden casket.

His tissue was so well-preserved due to his mummification and burial procedures that it could be examined using cutting-edge technologies to learn more about his life and death.

Dr. Nerlich’s team examined the infant’s teeth and measured the lengths of his bones for the study, which was published today in Frontiers in Medicine. These analyses suggested that the boy was between the ages of 12 and 18 months at the time of his death.

The child’s anatomy revealed that he was a boy, that his hair was black, that he was overweight for his age, and that his parents had been able to feed him adequately.

But when the scientists used CT scanning to simulate an autopsy, they discovered that the boy’s ribs had developed a malformation known as a “rachitic rosary,” which is typically observed in cases of severe rickets or scurvy.

This implies that despite eating enough to gain weight, he was nonetheless malnourished enough to develop one of these diseases.

Thus, it is assumed that it was caused by a vitamin D shortage as a result of being shielded from sunshine.

According to the authors, as aristocrats were supposed to have white skin and young newborns were also expected to have white skin, persons in socially high positions avoided sunlight exposure throughout the Renaissance.

The combination of obesity and severe vitamin insufficiency, according to Dr. Nerlich, can only be explained by a generally “excellent” nutritional condition and an almost total lack of sun exposure.

We need to take another look at how high aristocracy infants from earlier populations were raised.

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One of Austria’s oldest aristocratic families, the Counts of Starhemberg’s crypt is near their home at Wildberg Castle in the community of Hellmonsödt. Pictured: The family’s initial coat of arms is that of Starhemberg.


  • Male
  • Dark hair
  • 12 to 18 months old
  • Pneumonia and vitamin deficiencies were the deaths’ causes.
  • D.O.D = 1625 or 1626
  • Identity: Count of Starhemberg’s firstborn son, Reichard Wilhelm.

Lifestyle: Well-fed but undernourished as a result of inadequate sunlight

His approximate age shows he passed away before he was old enough to walk or crawl, which would have caused this deformation even if his bones were not bowed in the manner expected of someone with rickets.

As pneumonia is more likely to affect children with rickets, the CT scan also showed that he had lung inflammation typical of the infection.

The researchers came to the conclusion that this was probably his cause of death, while his nutritional insufficiency might have had a role.

While there was also deformation in his skull’s bones, it is believed that this happened after he passed away because there were no associated bone fractures, blood stains, or tissue damage.

Thus, it is assumed that it was caused by the fact that his body couldn’t fit within the flat, narrow coffin.

There were further hints in the remains that may be used to determine the identity of the infant.

A long, hooded coat made of pricey silk was discovered during a specialist study of his attire, and radiocarbon dating of a skin sample indicated that he was interred sometime between 1550 and 1635.

The powerful Counts of Starhemberg interred their title-holders, who were primarily their firstborn sons, and spouses in their vault, which the researchers also investigated.

The kid was most likely interred after the crypt underwent remodeling around the year 1600, according to records.

The experts think the infant is Reichard Wilhelm because of the fact that he was the sole child interred in the crypt, was probably a Count’s first child, and the possible ages at which he may have passed away.

They claim that his bereaved family purposefully interred him next to his illustrious ancestor Reichard von Starhemberg.

Although this is just one instance, Dr. Nerlich noted that because early infant mortality rates were known to be particularly high at the time, “our observations may have a tremendous impact in the overall life reconstruction of newborns, especially in higher social levels.”

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