Multidisciplinary Identification of the Controversial Freedom Fighter Jörg Jenatsch, Assassinated 1639 in Chur, Switzerland

Author(s): Haeusler, M., Haas, C., Lösch, S., Moghaddam, N., Villa, I.M., Walsh, S., Kayser, M., Seiler, R., Ruehli, F., Janosa, M. and Papageorgopoulou, C.
Journal: PLoS ONE
Issue/Volume: 11(12)
Page(s): e0168014
Year: 2016


Jörg Jenatsch, a leading freedom fighter during the Thirty Year’s War in Graubünden, Switzerland, was assassinated on carnival 1639. Jenatsch’s controversial biography and the unclear circumstances of his death inspired the formation of various legends, novels and films. In 1959, a skeleton discovered in the cathedral of Chur with remains of wealthy baroque clothing was tentatively attributed to Jenatsch. Here, we reassess the skeleton based on a new exhumation. Our multidisciplinary analysis and the head injuries are consistent with reports of the eyewitnesses of the crime, demonstrating that Jenatsch was killed from behind with a semi-sharp implement, supposedly an axe, as well as by a blow with a broad-surfaced object. Moreover, our facial reconstruction closely matches an oil portrait of Jenatsch, and the HIrisPlex system applied to DNA-extracts from the femoral bone reveals brown eye and dark brown hair colour, which coincides well with the portrait, too. Finally, isotope analysis of the femoral bone and a molar support Jenatsch’s high social status, luxury diet and a high mobility in the last decade of his life. This multidisciplinary approach thus reinforces personal identification and provides additional insight into the life of this important historic person beyond written resources.

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Peoples: Jörg Jenatsch | Places: Graubünden and Switzerland | Topics: Thirty Year’s War | DNA Type: Autosomal DNA