Identification of Giovanni Battista Morgagni remains following historical, anthropological, and molecular studies

Abstract

Morgagni died on December 5, 1771, 89 years old, and was buried in Saint Maxim Church in Padua, where his wife and five of his 15 children, four daughters, and one son were already buried. In 1868 and 1900, the tomb was opened to identify Morgagni. Among the remains of several adult individuals, two skulls considered of very old persons were identified and replaced in an earthenware jar inside the sepulcher. In 2011, we opened the tomb and found the remains described during the first two identifications, but additionally, we found the skulls fragments of three very young individuals which could have been Morgagni’s children. An anthropological analysis confirmed that one of the skulls inside the earthenware jar belonged to the oldest individuals (“senilis”) between those found in the tomb. A genetic analysis proved a kinship between this skull and the fragments of young individuals (one male and two females), supporting the hypothesis that they were Morgagni and his children. In conclusion, thanks to the interaction between historical studies, anthropological research, and molecular analysis that reinforce each other, we can assume that the skull is Giovanni Battista Morgagni’s and that the series of skull fragments are from his children who were buried together with their parents.

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Acknowledgements

The authors express their gratitude to Antonio Mattiazzo, Archbishop of Padua, and to Giovanni Brusegan, Rector of the Saint Maxim Church, for allowing the opening of the tomb to identify the Morgagni’s remains.

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We declare that we have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Gaetano Thiene.

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Zanatta, A., Zampieri, F., Zampieri, G. et al. Identification of Giovanni Battista Morgagni remains following historical, anthropological, and molecular studies. Virchows Arch 465, 501–508 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00428-014-1611-9

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Keywords

  • Morgagni
  • Anthropological analysis
  • Genetic analysis
  • Historical analysis