Register for an account

X

Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.

X

Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Health

Long-Dead Bishop's Coffin is Full of Coffin Beetles

DiscoblogBy Veronique GreenwoodAugust 1, 2012 12:55 AM

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

beetles.jpg

Archaeoentomology is a strange little corner of archaeology. Its practitioners search for signs of ancient bug life---fossilized eggs, old fly pupae, the like---in dig sites to tell, for instance, whether a body lay exposed before burial. One area they'd really like to know more about is what moves into coffins with bodies once they've, ah, started to go to earth. The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms play pinochle on your snout, to be sure, but which worms? So there's some interesting news in the latest issue of Forensic Science International for archaeoentomologists: researchers have produced a thorough catalogue of what was living inside the lead coffin of Archbishop William Greenfield shortly after he died in 1315

. (The coffin was disturbed during renovations to the church where it lies; the sample was taken then.) The researchers can't really say whether the list of long-dead insects whose parts they found means something particular about the bishop's body. But they present it as a case study of what moved in with the dead 700 years ago. In Greenfield's case, the answer is plenty of beetles, and the coffin beetle in particular, which is interesting, because you don't see those so much anymore. "Its decline in frequency may relate to the increased care taken in burial to a prescribed depth in sealed wooden coffins," the researchers point out. We don't know exactly what the beetle eats, they add: "There are differing opinions as to the beetle’s pabulum, whether it feeds on the fatty substances of the decomposing body, the coffin wood, fungi either found on the body itself or on the wood, or whether it is predatory on other inhabitants of the corpse." It's an interesting glimpse into the ecology of a burial, and also a reminder that lead coffins, unfortunately, don't do much to keep the creepy-crawlies out.

2 Free Articles Left

Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

Want unlimited access?

Subscribe today and save 70%

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In