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Argonne researchers confirm lead in Beethoven's illness

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory have found elevated amounts of lead in bone fragments belonging to 19th Century composer Ludwig von Beethoven, consistent with their earlier finding of massive amounts of lead found in his hair. These results confirm the cause of his years of chronic debilitating illness.

The bone fragments, confirmed by DNA testing to have come from Beethoven's body, were scanned by X-rays from the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne, which provides the most brilliant X-rays in the Western Hemisphere. A control bone fragment sample from the same historic period was also examined. Both bone fragments were from the parietal section ?the top ?of the skull.

"The testing indicated large amounts of lead in the Beethoven bone sample, compared to the control," said Bill Walsh, chief scientist at the Pfeiffer Treatment Center in Warrenville, Ill., and director of the Beethoven Research Project.

The bone fragment is the property of Paul Kaufman, a California businessman who inherited the relics through other family members from his great-great uncle, an Austrian doctor. Not sure if the fragment was actually from the composer, Kaufman sent it to the University of Muenster in Germany for mitochondrial DNA comparison with the samples of Beethoven's hair, owned by the Beethoven Society and also analyzed by Walsh and his colleagues at the Advanced Photon Source.

The findings confirm the earlier work done on the hair samples. In addition, the researchers found no detectable levels of either cadmium or mercury ?both considered possibilities for causing Beethoven's illness ?in either the bone fragment or the hair.

"The finding of elevated lead in Beethoven's skull, along with DNA results indicating authenticity of the bone/hair relics, provides solid evidence that Beethoven suffered from a toxic overload of lead," Walsh said. "In addition, the presence of lead in the skull suggests that hi
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Source:DOE/Argonne National Laboratory


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