SKULL AND BONES
Boris’s great grand mummy and a spooky bit of space rock
BORIS’S SWISS MUMMY
During renovation work on the Barfüsser Church in Basel in 1975, a woman’s body wearing expensive clothes was unearthed in front of the altar. Known as “Switzerland’s most famous mummy”, the unknown woman’s body was riddled with mercury, a standard treatment for syphilis from the late 15th to the 19th century. Highly toxic mercury treatment more often killed than cured, and it was this that preserved her body. The discovery of new archives last year revealed that the mummy had been discovered once before, in 1843, and had been linked to a wealthy Basel family.
DNA from one of the mummy’s big toes was compared to genetic material from a suspected modern relative. Not only was it a 99.8 per cent match, showing that the woman belonged to the Bischoff family, but further archival research showed she was Anna Catharina Bischoff, born in 1719 in Basel, where she died in 1787. Genealogists showed that she is the seven-times great grandmother of Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. Anna Catharina married a clergyman and spent most of her adult life in Strasbourg. She may have contracted syphilis while caring for patients with sexually transmitted diseases. After the death of her husband she returned to Basel. BBC News, 25 Jan; D.Telegraph, 26 Jan 2018.
Asteroid 2015 TB145 became nicknamed the “Halloween asteroid” after its skull-like form whizzed by 300,000 miles (483,000km) from Earth on 31 October 2015, just a little bit farther away from us than the Moon. This skull-like space rock, a slightly flattened ellipsoid, measures about 2,100ft (640m) across and is categorised as a PHA (Potentially Hazardous Asteroid). It will approach again next November, when it will skim past Earth at about a quarter of the distance as that to the Sun. When last observed, its flashes of reflected light indicated that it was rotating about once every three hours, although some data suggested once every five hours. The flashes were few and far between, however, since the asteroid’s surface is thickly coated with molecules that reflect only five or six per cent of the light that hits it. “This means that it is very dark, only slightly more reflective than charcoal,” said astrophysicist Pablo Santos-Sanz from the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia. Apt, perhaps, given its foreboding shape. europe. newsweek.com, unexplainedmysteries.com, 21 Dec 2017.
ABOVE: The mummy of Anna Catharina Bischoff (1719-1787), seven-times great grandmother of Boris Johnson (below). BOTTOM: A reconstruction showing Anna Catharina as she might have looked in life.