700-Year-Old Cold Case Clue Found in Mummy Poop

By Ashley Feinberg on at

In 1329, an Italian nobleman and dear friend of Dante suffered a particularly horrid bout of diarrhea that—it being the 14th century and all—promptly killed him at the tender age of 38. But now, thanks to Cagrande della Scala's exhumed, mummified corpse and the 700-year-old poop found therein, we know this wasn't your normal, everyday bout of fatal feces. This was murder.

The powerful warlord conquered the city of Treviso before falling ill, which made the timing of his stomach bug all the suspicious; nothing like an entire population of new enemies to haste one's death. But while there was whispering of foul play, contemporary accounts supposedly chalked it up to "drinking from a polluted spring." Not so!

When archaeologists from the University of Pisa performed CT scans on della Scala's mummified form in 2004 and discovered feces still present in the rectum, they naturally decided to take a little sampling of their very own. The resulting analysis proved 14th century conspiracy theorists' worst fears: He had been poisoned—specifically, with foxglove, a toxic plant known to cause "gastrointestinal distress, drooling, and even seizures."

So now, one question remains—who poisoned della Scala? And why?

All this and more, next season, on Serial. [New Historian, Discovery]

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