In a Medieval Woman's Grave, a 'Coffin Birth'

Italian researchers report on case of partially delivered fetus
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 26, 2018 8:47 AM CDT
Updated Mar 31, 2018 7:30 AM CDT
A stock photo of skeletal remains unrelated to the study.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – A female found buried near Bologna, Italy, in an early Medieval grave got a much deeper examination thanks to the discovery of a second set of bones in the grave: those of what has been determined to be a 38-week-old fetus. Forbes picks up the study, published in the journal World Neurosurgery, which comes to a grim conclusion: Italian researchers believe the fetus "extruded after the burial." Forbes elaborates: Researchers with the Universities of Ferrara and Bologna believe the baby's leg bones likely never made it out of the pelvic cavity, but the upper torso and head likely did, meaning "the fetus was likely partially delivered." The mother's remains show a forehead cut and an adjacent 5 millimeter hole, likely intentionally drilled during a primitive skull surgery.

The researchers believe she may have been suffering from eclampsia—seizures brought on by preeclampsia, a pregnancy disorder whose hallmark is high blood pressure—and that the surgery was an attempt to ease "the intracranial pressure." The researchers hypothesize she lived one week after surgery. Decomposition was a probable mechanism in the partial birth, with the resulting gases that swell the body ultimately pushing out the fetus. An American OB/GYN not associated with the study offers her theory: "Pressure from the gas builds up, and the dead fetus is delivered through a rupture—it basically blows a hole through the uterus into the vagina, as the vagina is much thinner than the cervix.” Science Alert reports such "coffin births" appear only rarely in the forensic archaeological record, and are rarer still in modern times due to the pre-burial removal of bodily fluids, though there was reportedly a case of it in South Africa in January. (Bored by a soccer game, this girl dug in the dirt, made a wild find.)

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