A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Scientists Review Beethoven’s Health With Hair Samples
Thursday, March 23, 2023
LEIPZIG, GERMANY—BBC News reports that a team of scientists, including researchers from Cambridge University, the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology, and the University Hospital of Bonn, has analyzed hair samples thought to have been taken from the composer and pianist Ludwig van Beethoven in the seven years before his death in 1827. Of the eight samples in the study, five of them were determined to have come from a single European male and were deemed “almost certainly authentic” after a review of their provenance and Beethoven’s documented ancestry. Beethoven is known to have suffered from progressive hearing loss beginning in his 20s, chronic gastrointestinal problems, and severe liver disease. Cirrhosis of the liver has been viewed as a likely cause of his death. The genetic analysis of the hair samples determined that the musician was likely genetically predisposed to liver disease, and had a hepatitis B infection. “If his alcohol consumption was sufficiently heavy over a long enough period of time, the interaction with his genetic risk factors presents one possible explanation for his cirrhosis,” said Tristan Begg of Cambridge University. No definitive causes for deafness or gastrointestinal problems were found in the samples. To read about efforts to preserve the earliest computer-generated melodies, go to "Digging up Digital Music."
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