DNA from Beethoven’s hair reveals new details into his cause of death centuries later: study

A genetic study conducted on locks of Ludwig van Beethoven’s hair revealed more details about the composer’s death at a relatively young age in March 1827.

The University of Cambridge biological anthropologist Tristan Begg, the lead researcher in the study “Genomic analyses of hair from Ludwig van Beethoven,” which was published in Current Biology on Wednesday, said eight strands of hair attributed to the German musician were tested in hopes of explaining potential underlying genetic and infectious causes of his illnesses.

It was already known that Beethoven, who died at the age of 56 from a protracted illness, began losing his hearing in his 20s and was functionally deaf by his mid-40s. He was also known to have experienced severe abdominal pains and chronic bouts of diarrhea since he was 22.

Though the study did not find a primary cause for his hearing loss or gastrointestinal problems, it shed light on other health issues the composer experienced during his lifetime.


Five of the eight strands of hair tested were found to be “perfect genetic matches” and were deemed “almost certainly authentic,” the study said, allowing researchers to determine Beethoven had a genetic predisposition for liver disease – something that was thought to have contributed to his death.

The testing also discovered that the famous composer had a hepatitis B infection during the months prior to his death, at the le