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Napoleon’s Hair Helps to Solve Mystery


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napoleonAs we all know, hair has many uses other than its everyday use on the top of our heads. One of the strangest, however, is the use of hair in toxicology. According to Kathy Steck-Flynn in an article for, unless hair is burned or treated with either acid or alkali, hair will remain as evidence long after most other evidence has disappeared.

One of the most famous cases of poisoning may have been solved by modern technology and hair. Napoleon Bonaparte was the emperor of France. He waged war on most of Europe during his reign. In the end, he was captured and exiled to a small island in 1821. Bonaparte was and is famous for the paintings showing him with his hand inserted into his shirt covering his stomach. This habit of putting his hand over his stomach led to the belief that he may have had stomach cancer. After all, his father had died of stomach cancer many years before.

Before he died, Napoleon wrote that he believed he was being poisoned by his English captors. When he did die, Napoleon's valet kept a lock of his hair. That lock of hair survived and, with the advent of new technology, was tested using neutron activation analysis. The results showed that the emperor had indeed been subjected to heavy doses of arsenic. The doses had been administered over a period of four months. It is impossible to say who poisoned Napoleon Bonaparte but it is now known he was poisoned.

And his hair proved it.