Case of murdered mummies: “virtual autopsy” reveals fatal injuries

The face and upper body of one of two likely murdered South American mummies, based on one of the recent mummies.
Zoom / The face and body of one of two likely murdered South American mummies, based on a recent “virtual autopsy”.

A.M. Begerock et al., 2022

An international team of scientists used CT scans to perform a “virtual autopsy” on three South American mummies, and found evidence of fatal shock in two of them, according to last paper Published in Frontiers in Medicine. One of the mummies was apparently hit on the head and stabbed, possibly by two assailants, while the other showed signs of severe trauma to the cervical spine. The third female mummy also showed signs of shock, but was damaged after death. The study is part of an ongoing effort to determine the frequency of violence in prehistoric human societies.

According to the authors, there is a large database of ancient Egyptian mummies and skeletons that show signs of traumatic injury, but there is much less data on South American mummies, many of which form naturally and are exceptionally well preserved. However, evidence of fatal trauma has been previously reported in a few cases, such as a pre-Columbian skull from the Nasca region showing logical trauma to the cervical spine and associated soft tissue hemorrhage into the skull. A nearly complete female mummy showed signs of facial bone fractures consistent with swipes from a weapon, as did the skull of a mummified infant.

A large-scale 1993 survey used conventional X-rays to analyze 63 mummies and mummy fragments, 11 of which showed signs of trauma to the skull. But these mummies came from different locations, groups, and time periods, which makes it difficult to draw general conclusions from the findings. last yearResearchers looked for signs of violence in the remains of 194 adults buried between 2,800 and 1,400 years ago in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile, and 40 of them appear to have been victims of brutal violence.

The authors of this most recent paper combined their expertise in anthropology, forensic medicine, and pathology and relied on CT scanning technology to reconstruct the three mummies under investigation. “The availability of modern CT scans with the opportunity for 3D reconstruction provides a unique view of objects that would not otherwise be detected,” said co-author Andreas Nierlich, a pathologist at the Munich-Bogenhausen Clinic in Germany. mummy, whereas older X-rays or computed tomography without 3D reconstruction functions could not detect the key diagnostic features that we found.”

The first specimen analyzed by Nerlich and colleagues is known as the “Marburg mummy,” a mummified male housed in the Anatomical Museum at Philips University in Marburg, Germany. (Acquisition records describe it as a “female mummy,” so someone at the time lost the mummy’s male genitals.) The man was likely between 20 and 25 when he died and was about 5 feet 6.5 inches (1.72 meters) tall. He was buried in a squatting position, and given the nature of the goods buried with him, it is likely that he belonged to a hunting community of the Arica culture in what is now northern Chile. There was previous scarring in the lungs, indicating that the man had tuberculosis, and his teeth were healthy but crooked. Radiocarbon dating indicates that he died between 996 and 1147 AD.

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