Buried ‘witch’ teenager of medieval Italy just had scurvy, as concluded by historians

Last year in October, we had covered the so-called witch burial of a 13-year old girl in Northern Italy. The terminology of a ‘witch’ was extensively used due to the downward way she was buried – which was believed (by people during the medieval times) to stop the cursed soul from leaving the body through the mouth. Furthermore, the teenager was also interred in an isolated place in front of the church, which suggested that ignorant folk back then still regarded her as some dangerous pariah even after her untimely death.

But where ignorance darkens, science sheds some light. Archaeologists suspected that the young girl might have suffered from anaemia that led to their pallor skin – which may have instigated the uninformed town folk to brand her as a witch. And now after extensive analysis of the remains, historians have credibly reached the verdict that the teenager also had scurvy, a condition arising from lack of vitamin C.

To that end, the state of scurvy condition can be determined by the various cranial lesions caused by the onset of porotic hyperostosis. In this case, the experts (which included anthropologist Elena Dellù and other team members) studied and found matching conditions on the external surface of the occipital bone, orbital roofs and along the sphenoid region. Dellù made it clear (to Discovery News) –

Areas of these osteo productive lesions were also present near the dental sockets and on the palate, where some teeth had fallen probably due to weak blood vessels, also damaged by mastication.

In other words, it was a combination of physical factors that must have alienated the teenager girl from her community. The assessment of her bone structure had revealed that she had a height of less than 5 ft, while her anaemia and scurvy led to pallor, protruding eyes, mouth bleeding and probable epileptic seizures. Moreover, from the historical perspective, the period of 15th century AD was time of religious turmoil in Europe, which might have exacerbated the hasty denouncements and witch hunting incidents.

However, there is still one remaining mystery that is be solved by the historians, and it relates to the diet of medieval Europeans and their geography-based habitation. In that regard, cases of scurvy were common in areas that hadn’t much access to Vitamin C rich food items, like England. But the girl in question here hailed from Albenga, an Italian settlement on the Ligurian coast where citrus fruits must have been plentifully available. To that end, researchers will now analyse the dietary scope of the teenager, and how it antithetically played a role in her unfortunate pathological condition.

Source: Discovery News

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