Analysis of soil samples has revealed the suffering of a 13th century Danish child in the days before his death, according to chemist Kaare Lund Rasmussen from University of Southern Denmark. The 10-13 year-old child from Ribe had been treated with mercury, causing great suffering.
"When the body decays in the grave a lot of compounds are released to the surrounding soil – by far most of them organic compounds. Also most of the inorganic elements are transformed to other compounds and later removed by the percolating groundwater throughout the centuries that follows. If we can localize an element in the soil in the immediate vicinity of the skeleton which is not normally found in the soil itself, we can assume that it came from the deceased and this can tell us something about how the person lived. We are not interested in death, but in the life before death", Kaare Lund Rasmussen explains. "Concerning past archaeological excavations it is appalling to think about all the soil that archaeologists have wheel barrowed away for more than a century – if we had samples of this soil, we would have access to a lot of important information."