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sábado, 13 de junho de 2015

Castration Affected Skeleton Of Famous Opera Singer Farinelli, Archaeologists Say

In a small city just above the heel of Italy’s boot,Carlo Broschi was born in 1705. Better known asFarinelli, his stage name, he became the greatest opera singer of the 18th century, performing all overEurope. This was the height of popularity of castrati, men who had been castrated as boys, before their voices changed. Farinelli is said to have had a rich soprano voice, with a range that would make any modern-day diva jealous.

Farinelli died in 1782, and after his original grave was destroyed in the Napoleonic wars, his remains were transferred to La Certosa cemetery in Bologna in 1810. There he rested until anthropologists excavated his grave in 2006, searching for additional information about his life. There are very few skeletons of individuals known to have been castrated, so anthropologist Maria Belcastro and colleagues sought to learn about Farinelli the person and the castrato.

The bones that survived the move to Bologna and the interment of Farinelli’s great-niece in the same grave decades later were few and not particularly well-preserved. Their demographic assessment was based on the fragmentary remains: the skeleton was male based on a narrow sciatic notch and absence of a preauricular sulcus; fused cranial sutures, dental wear, and degenerative changes in the vertebrae suggest advanced age-at-death, or over 60; and the length of the ulna revealed him to be quite tall, perhaps 6’3”.
Carlo Broschi, better known as Farinelli, seated at center in this painting
 by Jacopo Amigoni, circa 1750-1752. (Image from user Sailko at Wikimedia Commons.)

Immediately, Belcastro and colleagues noticed some interesting differences in Farinelli’s skeleton compared to the bones of other adult males. For one thing, he was much taller than average, with very long limb bones. His bones also maintained some lines of epiphyseal fusion. As children grow, their long bones form from three or more parts: a tube-like shaft and two end plates. Normally, when growth stops in late adolescence, the bone parts join together and fuse; the line of fusion eventually disappears in early adulthood. Both Farinelli’s abnormal height and his lack of fused bones are likely related to growth delays caused by his castration. Further, the researchers discovered osteoporosis and a condition called hyperostosis frontalis interna, both of which are generally much more common in older, post-menopausal women. These may also be related to the abnormal hormonal changes caused by castration.

Farinelli’s teeth provide additional information about his daily life, unrelated to his status as a castrato. Using CT scans, the researchers were able to virtually reconstruct his jaw. There was some chipping of his molars, possibly related to diet. Farinelli wrote that he was a fan of “mortadella, macaroni with courgettes, quince jelly, and chocolate,” Belcastro and colleagues say in their most recent article, and this soft diet may explain his relatively unscathed teeth, especially considering he lived to be 77 years old. It is also possible that Farinelli, who was frequently around the upper social classes, took care of his dental health, possibly with a toothbrush, which was a new, elite instrument in the late 18th century.

Heavy wear on his upper and lower front teeth reveal Farinelli had an overbite. While overbites are certainly not rare, Belcastro and colleagues suggest it may be related to castration if the mandible did not grow as much as the rest of the skull did. Further contributing to this diagnosis of problematic overbite is the fact that Farinelli complained during his lifetime of chronic stomachache. The researchers think that that problem may be related to his overbite and small jaw, which made him unable to chew food sufficiently. The overbite “did not likely affect Farinelli’s ability as a singer,” they write, “but may have generated some gastrointestinal disorders which were worsened by the high levels of stress related to his professional activity.”

There is, unfortunately, no recording of Farinelli at the height of his fame, although a 1994 movie imagines what he may have sounded like. The major events in Farinelli’s life are well-known, but Belcastro and colleagues have added their anthropological expertise to explore to more mundane parts of his life and to contribute to osteological knowledge of the effects of castration on the skeleton.

When my osteology students learn about traits that help figure out the sex of a skeleton, at least one always asks what effects sex reassignment surgery might have on the human skeleton, and I admit I don’t really know. But with more research along the lines of Belcastro and colleagues’ work, we may find out.

fonte: @edisonmariotti #edisonmariotti

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