Study of Napoleon's hair debunks poisoning claims

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Washington, February 12 : Italian researchers have debunked claims that Napoleon Bonaparte died of arsenic poisoning by examining the French emperor's hair.

Researchers from the universities of Pavia and Milan have also attempted to explain why high levels of arsenic were present in Napoleon's hair, as was revealed by a 2001 study.

The researchers analysed several hair samples taken during different periods of Napoleon Bonaparte's life: from when he was a boy in Corsica, during his exile on the Island of Elba, on the day of his death on the Island of Saint Helena, and on the day after his death.

They also analysed samples taken from Bonaparte's son Napoleon II in the years1812, 1816, 1821 and 1826, and those taken from Napoleon's wife, the Empress Josephine.

Besides, the researchers also tested ten hairs taken from randomly selected people alive today.

"It was very important to compare Napoleon's hair not only with samples from living persons, but also with samples taken from his close relatives," Discovery News quoted Adalberto Piazzoli of the University of Pavia's Theoretical and Nuclear Physics Department as saying.

The researchers examined the samples with the help of a technology called "neutron activation", which they say may provide precise results even when tiny samples are tested.

"Indeed we found that Napoleon's hair had high arsenic concentrations. But we found the same high concentration in samples belonging to his son and wife. Basically, the level of arsenic in all of the hair samples from 200 years ago is 100 times greater than the average level detected in samples from persons living today," Piazzoli said.

According to the study's results, the presence of arsenic in the environment at the beginning of the 19th century was as high as is considered very dangerous these days.

"Moreover, there were no significant differences in arsenic levels between when Napoleon was a boy and during his final days in Saint Helena. This shows clearly that the high arsenic concentration in Napoleon's hair wasn't due to poisoning. Instead, it is the result of a constant absorption of arsenic," Piazzoli said.

Ezio Previtali of the Italian National Institute of Nuclear Physics says, "discovering that 200 years ago people were 100 times more exposed to arsenic than today is one of the most intriguing aspects of the research."

"I believe that this research has established new reference points, but I'm sure there will be more studies over Napoleon's death, because of the fascination this figure still exerts," Previtali told the daily La Repubblica.

ANI

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