CT unravels 400-year-old mystery

November 30, 2004
H.A. Abella

Using MSCT, an investigative team from Mount Desert Island Hospital in Bar Harbor, ME, confirmed that scurvy was to blame for the death of nearly half of 79 colonists who arrived on Saint Croix Island, ME, in 1604.

Using MSCT, an investigative team from Mount Desert Island Hospital in Bar Harbor, ME, confirmed that scurvy was to blame for the death of nearly half of 79 colonists who arrived on Saint Croix Island, ME, in 1604.

An expedition of French settlers led by Samuel de Champlain settled on the island with the intention of colonizing the North Atlantic coast of North America. The unexpectedly harsh winter that year seemingly contributed to many of the explorers' deaths.

It was only with the advent of multislice CT, however, that researchers could scan the explorers' skeletal remains, which revealed a thick hard palate and an extra layer of bony tissue, a possible consequence of internal bleeding associated with scurvy, said principal investigator Dr. John Benson, director of medical imaging at MDIH.

Benson and colleagues used MSCT to examine remains from seven burial sites, including five femurs, two tibias, two fibulas, two craniums with their mandibles, two mandibles, and one maxilla. Their imaging protocol included 0.5-mm slice thickness, displayed on a commercially available workstation, using isotropic multiplanar reformatting and volume renderings.

MSCT's contributions to anthropological and forensic science are legion, Benson said. CT can make measurements without destroying the artifact. Furthermore, scans provided digital archives for continuous examination and studies without the need to unearth the remains again.