Ghoulish Gourd: The Blood of Louis XVI

Carved pumpkins abound during the Halloween season, but a decorated gourd dated to 1793 may be the spookiest of them all. New research determines it contains the blood of Louis XVI, who was executed by guillotine that same year.

The gourd, originally used to store gunpowder, was extensively decorated on the outside with a flame tool. Burned into its surface is the text: "Maximilien Bourdaloue on January 21st, dipped his handkerchief in the blood of Louis XVI after his beheading." 
The gourd, presently valued at about 500,000 euro ($700,000), is emblazoned with key figures of the French Revolution and bears an inscription that reads, as translated from French into English by the researchers, “Maximilien Bourdaloue on January 21st, dipped his handkerchief in the blood of the king after his beheading.”

There was no handkerchief in the gourd when the scientific team received it, but there was plenty of dried blood inside to scrape out five small samples. Two laboratories performed three kinds of DNA analysis: One probed the Y chromosome (inherited from the father), another scrutinized the HERC2 gene (associated with blue eyes) and the last examined the DNA in mitochondria (the powerhouses of cells, which are inherited from the mother).

The gourd has the names of key figures from the revolutionary period burnt into it, including Georges Danton, Jean Paul Marat, Camille Desmoulins, Louis-Sebastien Mercier, Joseph Ignace Guillotin, Maximilien Robespierre, Bernard-Rene de Launay, Jacques de Flesselles and Joseph Foullon.

"It may sound strange today, but probably for a common person witnessing the execution, one of these gunpowder gourds was an acceptable receptacle to preserve something valuable, but the gourds were long-lasting, common containers during the 18th century in France.

Resent research suggests a genetic link between the remains of Henri IV and the blood-soaked gourd
The team of experts from Spain and France has published its findings in Forensic Science International journal.

The team managed to find a rare genetic signature shared with DNA from a mummified head of Louis' 16th Century predecessor, Henri IV, who was killed in 1610.

The stains on the calabash also contained the "Y" chromosome, along with other matches, leading experts to conclude that the container almost certainly holds the blood of the executed king.

"Taking into consideration that the partial Y-chromosome profile is extremely rare in modern human databases, we concluded that both males could be paternally related," read the study.
"Historically speaking, this forensic DNA data would confirm the identity of the previous Louis XVI sample."


A memorial to King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette is pictured outside Paris, on October 7, 2010
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