Holy Human Head: French Retiree Had King Henri IV’s Mummified Remains in His Garage

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Portrait of King Henri IV of France

Time Life Pictures/Mansell/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

The strangest things are turning up in the hands of French pensioners these days—including the disembodied heads of France’s former monarchy.

Just three weeks after it was learned a retired electrician in southern France kept over 250 unknown artworks by Pablo Picasso secretly stashed away for the last 40 years, scientists now say a human head another French retiree stored in his garage is the noggin of King Henri IV. The British Medical Journal reports that specialists have authenticated the mummified head as that of Henri IV, whose remains were dug up by royalist-hating revolutionaries in 1793, 183 years after the king’s assassination by a Catholic fanatic.

(See the Top Ten Stolen Body Parts)

The regal melon is described as well preserved (and icky, depending on your sensibilities), boasting “a light brown color, open mouth, and partially closed eyes…(with) all soft tissues and internal organs well conserved”. Though remaining beard hair was too damaged for DNA testing, the experts authenticated the head as Henri’s thanks to well documented facial traits that included a distinctive mark on the king’s nose, and a scar above his lip suffered during an earlier unsuccessful assassination attempt.

(See more about pretenders to the French throne.)

Known as “the green gallant” in his time, Henri’s extraordinary popularity didn’t prevent him from being whacked in 1610—then having his remains ransacked by revolutionaries nearly 200 years later. Reports of his head passing between private hands have surfaced over the centuries, most recently after one collector bought it for three francs in 1919, then tried—and failed—to have it authenticated for display in French museums. It came into possession of an 84 year-old man who has kept it stashed in his garage since 1955. He finally decided to share it with experts in 2008—and provide the world with another example of the truly impressive stuff French pack rats have tucked away these days.

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