Dem bones are his bones

Last Thursday,
A bone thief,
Entered my home,
Came to my room,
And stole my arm’s bone…1.Mr. R’s World of Math and Science, Bone Poem.

In case you were worried that a variation on a classic joke would stump you, it has been confirmed that Charlemagne is buried in Charlemagne’s tomb.

Scientists led by Dr. Frank Ruhli of the University of Zurich announced that the bones found in Charlemagne’s tomb are almost certainly those of the Emperor. “Thanks to the results from 1988 up until today, we can say with great likelihood that we are dealing with the skeleton of Charlemagne.”2.The Local de, Charlemagne’s bones are (probably) real, 31 January 2014.

Somewhat surprisingly (to me, anyway) this news was carried widely. A quick Google search shows reports in CNN, Fox News, USA Today, and (not as surprisingly) in many European outlets.

Dr. Ruhli came at his study as a member of the Medical Faculty of the Institute of Evolutionary Medicine, where he does a lot of work with mummies. As he alluded in the announcement, had been studying the bones for a considerable length of time, including an academic paper published in 2010, which was based on Charles’ shinbone. That paper concluded that “Charlemagne was tall, but not robust.” This conclusion is restated in the announcement from 2014, when the good doctor announced that Charles was 1.84 meters tall (just over six feet), and about 78 kilograms (172 pounds). All in all, not quite the strapping god of popular imagination.

Livius Drusus over at The History Blog brought this announcement to the world of those of us who might not have Fox or CNN on during the morning coffee. While she includes the same quotes as the other outlets (and me), she goes one step further and includes an extensive quote from Einhard’s Vita where Einhard describes Charles’ appearance and limp later in life. This is particularly noteworthy, as according to Dr. Ruhli, “both kneecap and heel bones had deposits consistent with an injury.”3.Ibid.

Livius also goes above and beyond with a brief summary of the times and notables who felt it necessary to exhume Charles’ body, and the fascination with turning his bones into relics. Apparently the 14th century Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV4.Wikipedia lists a baker’s dozen “Charles IV” in Europe. was quite a fan of his namesake. He went to Aachen and brought back three teeth, which are now in a reliquary in the Church of the Virgin Mary and Saint Charlemagne.

Charles skull open
Skullcap reliquary, open
Charles skull closed
Skullcap reliquary

Other bones are housed outside the burial vault. There is a hand reliquary that holds two arm bones, as well as a gold bust that hinges opens at the hairline for access to the top of his skull. While no doubt some might call this kind of investigation improper, disrespectful, or even sacrilegious, I don’t think its subject would. Charlemagne had a keen interest in education, knowledge, and science. He was a very practical man, who wanted to know things. Perhaps he would even have been pleased to have his own body used in furtherance of knowledge.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Mr. R’s World of Math and Science, Bone Poem.
2. The Local de, Charlemagne’s bones are (probably) real, 31 January 2014.
3. Ibid.
4. Wikipedia lists a baker’s dozen “Charles IV” in Europe.

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