10 Absolute Worst Ways To Die According To Science

8. Decapitation


We'll now take a look at the dark world of capital punishment, but let's not lose our heads (pun very much intended, thanks).

So, let's talk about decapitation. One of the favourite soundbites of schoolchildren learning about the Tudors, is that the recently liberated head can sometimes remain conscious for a short time after decapitation.

Horrifyingly, this is probably true. The question is how long.

One detailed report from a Dr. Beaurieux in 1905, who reportedly managed to have something of a chat with a decapitated head, describes:

"The face relaxed, the lids half closed on the eyeballs, leaving only the white of the conjunctiva visible [...] It was then that I called in a strong, sharp voice: 'Languille!' I saw the eyelids slowly lift up, without any spasmodic contractions ... Next Languille's eyes very definitely fixed themselves on mine and the pupils focused themselves."

He repeated this three times, with the head only becoming unresponsive on the third attempt. If this is truly the case then it could be that the head survives for anything up to 30 seconds. Some scientists reckon it's probably closer to 3-5 seconds, due to the rapid decrease in blood pressure. 3-5 seconds without a body, however, is still 3-5 seconds too long.

This is all if everything goes swimmingly too. Decapitations carried out with an axe all-too-often took multiple blows to sever the head. The execution of Mary Stuart took three blows, during which she let out a horrible groan of pain and (according to some) kept praying. The executioner eventually had to hack the rest off with a knife.

Regardless of how long consciousness lingers, most scientists agree that beheading, no matter how quick and clean, would produce excruciating pain for at least a few seconds.

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