How ‘Talking’ Corpses Were Once Used to Solve Murders

From unreliable hair analysis to mishandled DNA samples, modern forensic science has seen its share of troubles. But there’s still plenty to be thankful for in the ways courts today gather evidence of a crime: Just a few centuries ago, people were convicted of murder based on the idea that a corpse would spontaneously bleed in its killer’s presence.

The Ordeal of the Bier,” an 1881 painting by Hungarian artist Jenő Gyárfás, shows a bride looking in horror as she passes the body of her murdered fiancé and it begins to bleed.

From at least the 1100s to the early 1800s, men and women were judged in courts across Europe and colonial America based on a test called cruentation, or the ordeal of the bier, named for the type of wagon that carried a corpse or coffin. In such testimony, oozing knife wounds and gushes of blood from the noses and eyes of the deceased were considered proof positive of guilt. (Read about the surreal cases of famous bodies exhumed for science.)

No one knows exactly how the belief in cruentation got its start, but one of the earliest mentions on record is in the sixth century, in the epic Germanic poem Nibelungenlied. In the poem, the dragon-slayer Siegfried is murdered, and his body is laid out on a bier. When his killer Hagen approaches, the dragon-slayer’s wounds begin to flow. The idea had already caught on by the time the poem was written, as it states that “it is a great marvel and frequently happens today that whenever a blood-guilty murderer is seen beside the corpse the wounds begin to bleed.”

Read More –How ‘Talking’ Corpses Were Once Used to Solve Murders – National Geographic