Skeleton Of Woman Who ‘Gave Birth After Death’ Discovered

by : Francesca Donovan on : 02 Apr 2019 09:30
skeleton mum and babyPasini et al. 2018/World Neurosurgery

A skeleton with a tragic story has been uncovered by archaeologists in Italy.

The bones of a woman who was buried with a head injury from a Medieval medical treatment have been exhumed, in a process which also revealed a rare case of ‘coffin birth’.


The deceased Italian woman’s skeleton was found with tiny bones between her thighs. Experts say these are the bones of her child, with whom she was pregnant, and who was stillborn after the woman had died and been buried.

mother and baby skeleton Pasini et al. 2018/World Neurosurgery

The burial, which dates back to 7th-8th century AD, was determined to be a purposeful interment by archaeologists due to the skeleton’s position within the stone-lined grave.

The skeleton was found face up and well preserved in the resting place in the town of Imola, northern Italy, in 2010.


However, the nature of the wound in the skull and the tiny human bones found caused archaeologists to investigate further.


The findings were recently published in the journal World Neurosurgery by researchers at the Universities of Ferrara and Bologna, and confirmed a case of coffin birth, a rare phenomenon in which a foetus is forcibly expelled from its mother’s body after death.

A San Francisco gynaecologist, Dr. Jen Gunter, told Forbes:


The cervix shouldn’t relax with death after rigor mortis disappears. I suspect that what happens is the 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.

Based on the length of the upper thigh bone of the tiny skeleton, the fetus was estimated to be about 38 weeks’ gestation.


According to the report, per Science Direct, the baby’s head and upper body were below the pelvic cavity, while the leg bones were almost certainly still inside it, which means it was positioned with its head down in preparation for birth like a near-term fetus: head down in preparation for birth.


It also means the foetus was likely partially delivered.

Interestingly, the adult skeleton displayed evidence of a head wound consistent with the Medieval medical practice of trepanation, whereby ancient doctors would relieve all manner of ailments by making a hole in the patient’s skull.


Sometimes, this was used to treat high blood pressure. Thus, the researchers theorise the hole in her head is linked to her eclampsia pregnancy, a condition manifesting in fits due to high blood pressure in expectant mothers.


Evidently, the treatment didn’t work and thus a tragedy thousands of years old is now fascinating bioarchaeologists the world over.

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Francesca Donovan

A former emo kid who talks too much about 8Chan meme culture, the Kardashian Klan, and how her smartphone is probably killing her. Francesca is a Cardiff University Journalism Masters grad who has done words for BBC, ELLE, The Debrief, DAZED, an art magazine you've never heard of and a feminist zine which never went to print.

Topics: Health, birth, Death, Italy


Forbes and 1 other
  1. Forbes

    This Pregnant Medieval Woman With Head Wound 'Gave Birth' In Her Grave

  2. Science Direct

    Neurosurgery on a Pregnant Woman with Post Mortem Fetal Extrusion: An Unusual Case from Medieval Italy