Embalmed Hearts Reveal Heart Disease Has Been Around For Many Years

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Evidence shows plaque build-up in arteries is not a modern disease.

Heart disease, a problem plaguing many people in the world today, has been around for a long time, according to some new research on embalmed hearts uncovered in France.

An article on says archaeologists have discovered five heart-shaped urns made of lead, in the ruins of a medieval convent in Rennes, France, and each earn contained the embalmed remains of a human heart.

The earliest of the urns was dated 1584, and the latest was dated 1655.  One of the hearts belonged to Toussaint Perrien, Knight of Bregeillac, who passed away in 1649, according to an inscription on the urn.

Perrien’s heart had been removed from his body upon his death and was buried with the body of his wife, Louise de Quengo, Lady of Brefeillac, who passed in 1656.  Lady Brefeillac’s body was found buried in a wool dress, cape, bonnet and leather shoes with cork soles, and was amazingly well preserved.

Archaeologists had been excavating the ruins of the Jacobins convent in Rennes during a period from 2011 through 2013, and uncovered around 800 graves in the process.  Construction on the convent began in 1369, and the site became an important pilgrimage and place of burial in the 15th to 17th centuries.

Now some 400 years after the hearts were buried, researchers are using modern scientific techniques to examine the hearts, including CT scans, MRI imaging and other methods, and they are finding some surprising results.

Anthropologist Rozenn Colleter of the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research said each heart examined by the research team was different and they each revealed their own surprises.

Adding four of the hearts were well preserved, Colleter said it was very rare for archaeology to be able to examine organic materials and the prospects were exciting.

The poorly-preserved heart was the only one that belonged to a woman, and the condition did not permit any examination to be completed.  Of the four remaining, only one was a healthy heart, with the other three showing signs of atherosclerosis, a disease that builds up plaque inside of the arteries.

Radiologist Dr. Fatima-Zohra Mokrane of Rangueil Hospital at the University Hospital of Toulouse said one of the important aspects of the study was realizing people suffered from atherosclerosis so many years ago.

Mokrane added the discovery showed that atherosclerosis was not a recent pathology because it was found in different hearts.

The research team presented their findings at a meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

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