Archeologists discover skeleton of a woman who gave birth in her tomb

In Italy, archaeologists have made a discovery that is as rare as it is sinister. They discovered the skeleton of a woman who, according to a gynecologist's analysis, gave birth in her own tomb...

archeologists discover gloomy pregnant woman tomb birth
© Science Photo Library / Getty Images
archeologists discover gloomy pregnant woman tomb birth

It was a discovery as rare as it was sordid that archaeologists made in Imola, northern Italy, in 2010. A 7th-century tomb containing the remains of a woman was discovered at a site. It intrigued researchers because small bones were found between the deceased's legs, prompting them to investigate their nature.

Discover our latest podcast

Explaining the dead fetus

As they report in their study, this was a case of post-mortem fetal expulsion. In other words, a delivery that took place after death, and more specifically in the grave.

I might as well warn you, this explanation won't whet your appetite. When you die, gases build up and increase the pressure in your body. Quoted by Forbes, gynecologist Jen Gunter said:

I think what happens [in post-mortem fetal expulsion] is that the gas pressure builds up and the dead fetus is delivered by a rupture - in effect, it makes a hole through the uterus into the vagina, because the vagina is much thinner than the cervix.

The fetus would have been expelled, stillborn, from a decomposing body. The mother's death was reportedly linked to her pregnancy.

An injury caused by pregnancy

As indicated in the study, the woman had a hole in her skull. This was the result of an operation to relieve suffering related to her pregnancy:

Given that trepanning was once often used in the treatment of hypertension to reduce blood pressure in the skull (...) we hypothesized that this lesion might be associated with the treatment of a hypertensive disorder of pregnancy.

Unfortunately, the operation did not cure her. She would have survived a week before being buried, shortly before her pregnancy came to term.

This article has been translated from Gentside FR.

Read more:

This 56-year-old woman ended up pregnant with her son's baby

Girl with no vagina got pregnant in jaw-dropping medical miracle

Uterine fibroids: This woman experienced pregnancy symptoms for 3 years before getting the right diagnosis

Sources used:

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

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

This woman complained of terrible stomach pains, what doctors discovered was totally unexpected This woman complained of terrible stomach pains, what doctors discovered was totally unexpected