It took one of the most powerful X-Rays in the world, but scientists were able to prove conclusively at last that Ludwig van Beethoven died from lead poisoning. They focused the beam on six pieces of his hair and small fragments of his recently discovered skull.
The study took place at the Energy Department's Argonne National Laboratory outside of Chicago. It had long been speculated that lead poisoning could have been the cause of Beethoven's death. What is uncertain is how Beethoven came to be exposed to such great amounts of lead. It is possible that the source was his lead drinking cups which he frequently drank wine from. Another possibility is that the lead came from medical treatments which he received. Treatments from the 19th century frequently contained traces of heavy metals such as lead. Also, the actual containers for the medicines back then were frequently leaded glass bottles.
Another important finding was that there was no mercury present. This further discredits the theory that Beethoven had syphilis which was treated with mercury in those times.
Beethoven's hair samples contained 60 parts per million of lead. This is 100 times higher than the normal amount found in most humans.
As early as his twenties, Beethoven started to have medical symptoms that indicated he may have lead poisoning such as severe stomach problems. By his late twenties Beethoven was deaf. However, it is not believed that the lead poisoning brought about the deafness.
And so, at last, the long speculated cause of death has been answered for this great composer. Now, if only we could figure out the cause of Mozart's death!
[From The Washington Post]
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