Monday, 18 February 2008

Hair today…

Fans of conspiracy theories will be a little disappointed.

A team at the Italian National Institute of Nuclear Physics have finally confirmed that Napoleon Bonaparte was not poisoned by his captors on St. Helena where he was imprisoned after his final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

The conspiracy theory has been based on the fact that the wallpaper used in Napoleon’s house on St. Helena contained a high level of arsenic which was used by British textile manufacturers at the time to make the green colouration in wallpaper. It has been suggested that the paper, which in the cooler environment of Britain was innocuous, grew mold and turned the copper-arsenic compound into a deadly gas in the warm and humid climate of St. Helena.

The Italian team used a small nuclear reactor to study hair samples taken throughout Napoleon's life.

The hairs were placed in capsules, inserted into the core of the nuclear reactor and studied using a technique called “neutron activation analysis” which allows for the discrete sampling of elements. The process disregards the chemical form of a sample and focuses solely on the nucleus of the element being observed. This method has the significant advantage that it does not destroy the sample used and produces extremely accurate results even for samples that have very little mass. Like human hair, oddly enough.

What the researchers did find was that all of the hair samples studied contained levels of arsenic 100 times greater than one would find in people today.

The researchers also found that the levels of arsenic found in Napoleon's hair samples were consistent throughout his life noting that they had already been at an elevated level as a boy.

According to the researchers and in particular the toxicologists who participated in the study, this was evidence that it was not a case of poisoning but rather the result of the constant absorption of arsenic.

So at last we can say with confidence that it wasn’t the wallpaper that did for the pocket sized megalomaniac

Well it’s that or the ability of the British Security Services to predict and react to long term threats has severely diminished over the last 200 years.


jmb said...

I think it is said that most people of that time had very high levels of arsenic for similar reasons, however they aren't testing them. The same would be true of lead levels in earlier times.

Rob said...

I didn't even realise that there was a conspiracy?

Very interesting and informative.

Phil A said...

Never mind. They have the eminently well hinged Mohamed Fayed to moe than make up for the loss that of that theory..

Bretwalda Edwin-Higham said...

I think Josephine got him.

Ed said...

How very interesting. I have done some neutron activation analysis in my time it is an interesting technique. I wonder if the arsenic came from badly treated water or somewhere in the food chain?

jams o donnell said...

Fascinating stuff. I always though he ha been poisoned. It would be interesting to find out what killed him

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