Coffin Birth: Medieval Grave Found With Remains of Baby 'Born' After Mother's Burial

Medieval medicine is full of shocking remedies, like performing brain surgery as a treatment for pre-eclampsia. But scientists think that explains the remains of a woman discovered in Imola, Bologna, in Italy. Although archaeologists unearthed the woman's remains in 2010, scientists only recently offered an explanation for her death—and why a fetus appeared to be partially birthed after her burial, a condition known as postmortem fetal extrusion, or coffin birth.

Related: Ancient Bond Between Human and Animals Revealed in 14,000-Year-Old Diseased Dog Teeth

3/26/2018_remains Bones found in Rome in 2008 by archaeologists. A new paper explains a medical mystery unearthed from Italian remains discovered in 2010. Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

At the time, archaeologists determined that the woman lived around the 7th and 8th centuries CE, according to ScienceAlert. A hole in her head indicated she had received an ancient surgical procedure known as trepanation. According to the University of California Santa Barbara, this surgery usually removed a piece of the skull using a scraping tool, and it was used to treat a variety of ailments including head injuries, heartsickness and depression. 

A fetus was also found, its head between the woman’s thighs, its legs still in her pelvic area, appearing as though it had been partially birthed.

Now, in a paper published last month in World Neurosurgery, researchers are trying to solve the mystery surrounding the fetus’s bizarre placement. As ScienceAlert reported, a team from the University of Ferrara and the University of Bologna in Italy believed the woman was between 25 and 35 years old when she died. The fetus is estimated to be around 38 weeks, meaning the mother was close to having the baby before dying.

Scientists think the woman received trepanation to treat pregnancy-related problems, resulting in her death. Although scientists aren’t quite sure how coffin birth works—theories aren't proven—OB/GYN Jen Gunter, based in the San Francisco Bay Area, explained to Forbes what doctors think causes the phenomenon.

“I suspect that what happens is the pressure from the gas builds up, and the dead fetus is delivered through a rupture—it basically blows a hole through the uterus into the vagina, as the vagina is much thinner than the cervix,” she told the publication.

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