Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Europe’s Not-So-Dark Ages

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

GARCHES, FRANCE—A new study of a preserved human head at University Hospital R. Poincaré suggests that Europe’s medieval doctors may have been more advanced in their thinking than had been thought. The head’s veins and arteries had been filled with a mixture of beeswax, lime, and cinnabar mercury to help preserve it and color its circulatory system. Radiocarbon dating indicates that the body was dissected and prepared between 1200 and 1280 A.D., a time known as the “Dark Ages.” But historian James Hannam thinks this label originated with anti-Catholic sentiments after the Reformation. “There was considerable scientific progress in the later Middle Ages, in particular from the thirteenth century onward,” he said.