The Man Who Died of Constipation 1,200 Years Ago Had Been Eating Grasshoppers for Months

In the annals of history, there lies a tale of a man whose unfortunate demise was marked not by a swift passing, but by a prolonged struggle with an excruciating ailment. This ancient individual’s large intestine had swelled to six times its normal size due to severe constipation, casting a shadow of misery over his final days. Let’s delve into this intriguing saga that takes us back 1,200 years, as archaeologists uncovered the remains of a man whose struggles with constipation were unlike any other.

The Skiles Mummy Discovery

In 2019, archaeologists stumbled upon a fascinating find in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands of South Texas – the Skiles mummy. This region had yielded approximately 150 mummified bodies, but what set this particular discovery apart was its remarkable preservation, considering its age of roughly 1,200 years.

An Unusual Find

The Skiles mummy was not just an ordinary archaeological discovery. This adult male, unlike most mummies, boasted a full head of hair. Moreover, he harbored a massive, desiccated mass of feces that spanned a significant portion of his gastrointestinal system.

Insights from Fecal Matter

The size of this fossilized stool presented a unique opportunity for researchers to gain insights into the man’s diet in the months leading up to his demise. His hair, too, offered a window into his nutritional history.

Skiles Mummy on display in 2016. Dark gray stuff around the abdomen wrapped in deerskin straps, gut sections completely filled with feces | Image Source: Kirsten A. Verostick et al. 2019.

Comparing his diet to typical diets of the time, as deduced from the feces of other individuals, the research team unearthed surprising revelations about the man’s final months.

A Tragic Culmination

The collected data pointed to a tragic narrative. The man succumbed to Chagas disease, likely due to his inability to absorb sufficient proteins in the months preceding his death, rendering him immobile.

This information is significant because it implies that someone from his community must have provided him with sustenance, tending to his daily needs. In essence, he received care from his society even as he neared death.

A Diet of Locusts

Among the artifacts found alongside the Skiles mummy were an astonishing quantity of locust remains. This suggests that, during the twilight of his 35-45 years of life, he was well-taken care of, with his caretakers often removing the legs of locusts and offering him the protein-rich, moisture-laden portions of their bodies. This made it easier for him to eat, especially during the initial stages of his intestinal blockage.

The Unpleasant Truth

While the circumstances surrounding his death were far from pleasant, a detailed examination of his fecal matter using scanning electron microscopy revealed an abundance of phytoliths – microscopic plant remnants typically resilient to digestion.

The presence of shattered and crushed phytoliths in his digestive system indicates an immense struggle within his intestines, highlighting the unprecedented nature of his pathology. It’s safe to say that this level of intestinal obstruction is truly unique in the annals of medical history.

In conclusion, the story of the man who battled chronic constipation 1,200 years ago offers us a glimpse into the complexities of life in ancient times. Despite the discomfort he endured, the care he received from his community is a testament to the resilience of human compassion even in the face of adversity.

Featured Image Source: C: Kirsten A. Verostick et al. 2019.

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