Jane Austen and Galileo's fingers
The kind of history news I love--straight from the CNN headlines: "Galileo's Missing Fingers Found in Jar" and..."What Really Killed Jane Austen?"
Apparently, three fingers were cut from Galileo's hand on March 1737 and a tooth removed from his lower jaw, when his body was moved in Florence (removing body parts as relics from the sanctified dead was a common practice at the time).
The jar with two of the fingers and the tooth went missing in 1905, and only recently resurfaced when somebody brought them to a museum in Florence. The actual cause of Galileo's death remains to be determined...but at least now with fingers and a tooth, there is enough DNA to spare for testing--which could shed some light on the blindness that afflict Galileo late in his life and during his final illness. To read the whole article check out: http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/europe/11/23/galileo.fingers/index.html
Today CNN posted: What Really Killed Jane Austen?
Now in almost every bio I've read or seen about here, the assumption was that she died of consumption, or tuberculosis...but apparently a doctor asserted in a paper he published (in 1964) that she died of Addison's disease (a failure of the adrenal glands). Katherine White, a social scientist who is a coordinator of the UK's Addison's Disease Self-Help Advisory Group says no way---Jane had none of the symptoms: headaches, sleepiness, slurred words, difficultly remembering words--that Jane Austen even wrote a comic poem to her sister 48 hrs before her death was proof she did not suffer from Addison's.
Without DNA, the retrospective diagnosis of Addison's disease (a condition barely recognized in Jane's lifetime) or lymphoma (another refuted cause of her death), will never be proven. Tuberculosis, which rampant in her time even amongst the middle class (milk was unpasteurized), is still the best guess.
Personally, I am glad that Ms. Austen left no DNA behind. We will really never know what killed her. Even the image of her posted here (a painting by Ozias Humphry, believed to be of Jane when she was about 14) is not a sure thing---but I'd prefer to have a mental image of her just like this.
Most of us I am sure, don't really need to know what really killed Jane Austen, or even Galileo. The work they left behind has given them immortality.
But the deaths of historical figures interest me, mostly because so many were premature or untimely. Have you ever researched the final hours of a famous historical figure?