Harry, the not so happy fellow


Ladies and gentlemen, meet Harry! In case you haven’t noticed, Harry is dead.

Actually, Harry is very, very dead. And he has been for some 400 years. Harry may have led a happy life. He ate some vegetables and meat, his teeth were strong and healthy and when he became ill, he was treated in a nice hospital with a church.

And then he died…

This is the story of Harry, the not so happy fellow.

For a fellow living in the Early Modern Period, Harry was a rather tall man. About 1.80m in height with good health, but the Dutch have always been tall. Because that is were Harry used to live, in the Dutch city Kampen. Which also means his name might not be Harry, but Hendrik. We’ll keep calling him Harry though.

In Harry’s lifetime, the Netherlands were ending the Eighty Years’ War against Spain. This small, seafaring country, fought off the Spanish empire, the inquisition, and eventually king Philip II and his general Alva. After that, the ‘Golden Age’ started, a time of wealth, religious freedom, trade and art for the newborn Republic of the Netherlands. You could call it the Renaissance of the Netherlands.
Wether or not Harry still lived in the Golden Age, he must have lived a wealthy life because his bones are still strong. His teeth also show no signs of corrosion or weakening, signs that show long periods of hunger or unhealthy eating habits. A small remodeling on the bones of his lower arm shows it might have been broken when he was younger. But his backbones and ribs show that he reached an old age. Which does not mean much in modern time, since people died around their 40’s in the seventeenth century… But it looks like Harry led a good life in the years he had. Since his bones and teeth are in such a good condition and shape, we can assume he was able to afford a healthy diet. But still, he ended up in the hospital.

I ended up... where?!
I ended up… where?!

Indeed, the hospital. A small ‘guesthouse’ next to a church. In the seventeenth century, there were no hospitals as there are today. When you became ill you stayed at home where a doctor visited you, if you could afford one of course. If you became ill with a dangerous, contagious disease (like the plague), your house was marked as being under quarantine or you were moved to a special place (which happened when you contracted leprosy). Harry did not become infected with a disease, but he did need constant care so he was moved to a small guesthouse connected to a church. This means Harry must have been a hard-working respectable member of the community, since only they had the privilege to be treated here. He was not rich enough to afford his own doctor, but also not ‘poor enough’ to just die on the streets.

In the end, the church and caretakers could not save Harry. He probably had a case of Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS). Which means that his backbones were fusing and growing together. Add a severe case of arthritis to that scenario and we can only imagine the pain Harry must have been in. His hips grew extra bone, which also deteriorated and made the movement of his legs almost impossible. The worst case in his back, were three vertebrae that were completely fused together. Where there should be three seperate bones, there now was one. Harry does not had any bones broken, while this easily happens with arthritis so he must have been lying down most of the day since the movement to a sitting position would be extremely painful for him.
I hope he had a nice window to look out, or who could read to him. In the end, he might not have been able to walk anymore, or move much at all. His body was well taken care for when he was buried which is the reason why Harry is with us not, in this osteoarchaeology lab. His pain will not be for nothing, we can learn a lot from Harry and diseases in the past. But I do hope Harry did have, at some point in his life, happier times than the months before his death…

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