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Home SCIENCE The case of the murdered mummies: "virtual autopsy" reveals fatal injuries

The case of the murdered mummies: “virtual autopsy” reveals fatal injuries

Enlarge / Face and upper body of one of two South American mummies likely to have been killed, according to a recent “virtual autopsy.”

AM Begerock et al., 2022

An international team of scientists used CT scans to perform “virtual autopsies” on three South American mummies and found evidence of fatal trauma in two of them, according to a recent article published in the journal Frontiers in Medicine. One of the mummies had clearly been hit in the head and stabbed, possibly by two assailants, while the other showed signs of massive trauma to the cervical spine. The third female mummy also showed signs of trauma, but the damage was inflicted postmortem. The study is part of ongoing efforts 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 having suffered traumatic injury, but there is much less data for South American mummies, many of which were naturally formed and exceptionally well preserved. Nonetheless, evidence of fatal trauma has been previously reported in some cases, such as a pre-Columbian skull from the Nasca region showing rational trauma to the cervical spine and accompanying soft tissue bleeding into the skull. A nearly complete female mummy showed signs of facial bone fractures consistent with massive blows from a weapon, as did the skull of a mummified male infant.

An extensive 1993 survey used conventional X-rays to analyze 63 mummies and mummy fragments, 11 of which showed signs of skull trauma. But those mummies came from different places, populations and time periods, making it difficult to draw general conclusions from the finds. last yearThe researchers looked for signs of violence in the remains of 194 adults buried between 2,800 and 1,400 years ago in the Atacama desert in northern Chile, 40 of whom appeared to have been victims of brutal violence.

The authors of this most recent article have combined expertise in anthropology, forensic medicine and pathology and have relied on computed tomography technology to reconstruct the three mummies under investigation. “The availability of modern CT scans with the opportunity for 3D reconstructions offers a unique insight into otherwise undetected bodies,” said co-author Andreas Nerlich, a pathologist at the Munich Bogenhausen Clinic in Germany. mummy, while older X-rays or CT scans without three-dimensional reconstruction features could not have detected the key diagnostic features we found.”

The first specimen that Nerlich and colleagues analyzed is known as the “Marburg Mummy,” a mummified male housed in the Anatomicum Museum at Phillips University in Marburg, Germany. (Acquisition records describe it as a “female mummy,” so no one at the time saw the mummy’s male genitalia.) The man was probably between 20 and 25 years old when he died and was approximately 5 feet 6.5 inches (1.72 meters) tall. He was buried squatting and given the nature of the goods buried with him, he probably belonged to a fishing community of the Arica culture in what is now northern Chile. There was previous scarring on the lungs, indicating that the man suffered from tuberculosis and had well-preserved but crooked teeth. Radiocarbon dating indicates that he died between 996 and 1147 CE.


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