Famed Astronomer's Remains Have High Levels of ... Gold?

Famously wealthy, eccentric scientist appears to have been surrounded by gold
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 15, 2016 7:50 AM CST
Famed Astronomer's Remains Have High Levels of ... Gold?
On Monday, Nov. 15, 2010, archeologists lift a tomb stone of a grave of famous Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe at the Church of Our Lady at the Old Town Square in Prague, Czech Republic. Ever since Tycho Brahe suddenly died in 1601, many have wondered whether he died of natural causes or was murdered.   (AP Photo/Petr David Josek, File)

Tycho Brahe was an unusual man. The Danish astronomer from the late 1500s who laid the foundation for modern astronomy was extremely wealthy, had a pet moose, and according to a new analysis of his hair and bones, was also—literally—full of gold, reports the University of South Denmark. "It may have been the cutlery and plates of gold, or maybe the wine he drank contained gold leaf," one researcher says. "It's also possible that he concocted and consumed elixirs containing gold, or that he worked with alchemy." However, he became so filled with the stuff, researchers report in the journal Archaeometry that his levels were up to 100 times higher than what is commonly seen today, but because they were lower in the months before his death, they're also confident he wasn't poisoned.

Brahe's body was exhumed in 2010, and it's since been established that he was neither murdered nor died of mercury poisoning (there aren't even traces of mercury), both of which had been rumored, reports the Smithsonian. In addition to gold, the analysis also found higher levels than are common today of cobalt, arsenic, and silver. Experts say he was likely exposed to them in his laboratory, and note that while their toxicity hadn't yet been established and heavy metals killed many alchemists who worked with them, Brahe's levels weren't high enough to suggest toxicity. The latest hair analysis also rules out metabolic diseases, so while researchers can now tick off a growing list of what did not kill Brahe, what did remains a mystery. (Dozens have gotten sick from mercury in unmarked creams.)

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