Mummy Murder Mystery: Researchers Say Radiocarbon Dating Suggests Blunt Force Trauma In Incan Mummy

By Josh Lieberman on February 26, 2014 5:28 PM EST

mummy
A new analysis of a mummy housed in the Bavarian State Archeological Collection for over 100 years shows that the female was likely murdered (Photo: Photo credit: Andreas Nerlich)

The case of the unidentified mummy housed in the Bavarian State Archeological Collection in Germany has been solved, and the cause of death was...murder. For over a century, the female mummy has resided in the German museum, its cause of death unknown. Now new research suggests that the likely cause was blunt force trauma, though the female also suffered from Chagas disease.

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Very little was known abou

t the mummy before this study, as the mummy was brought to Germany in the 1900s with no records. Researchers from the Trauma Center Murau, Germany, along with paleopathologist Andreas Nerlich of Munich University, used a variety of techniques to discover what they could about her life and death. Thse methods included a complete body CT scan, isotope analysis and forensic injury reconstruction, among others tests.

From radiocarbon dating, the researchers found that when the female died between 1450 and 1640 AD, she was likely 20 to 25 years old. Her skull formations revealed that she was likely Incan, and hair band fibers likely originating from a South American llama or alpaca further support this. The isotope analysis revealed a diet of maize and seafood, indicating a life spent on the coast of Peru or Chile. Thickening of her organs and a DNA analysis of parasites found in her rectum suggest a life spent with Chagas disease, an illness common to South America which is spread by insects.

Then there was the blunt force trauma of her s            kull and face. "The most remarkable findings affected the skull," the researchers wrote. "Despite an only minimal external skin lesion of the forehead the complete face and central skull bones are destroyed. The fact that the face still has retained an almost normal outer shape indicates that the bones were dislocated into the skull cavity post mortem."

The researchers say this may have been a case of ritual homicide, a practice which has been observed in other mummies from South America.   

"Taken all data together, we provide circumstantial evidence that the mummy of the Bavarian Archaeological State Collection originates from South America, most probably from the coastal area of Southern Peru," the researchers write. "Furthermore, the data indicate a change in food supply of the individual during her last two months suggesting a more terrestrial diet than sea food in this final period. The massive skull trauma indicates massive central blunt force that must have been acquired perimortally." ("Perimortal" refers to a condition present at death, whether or not it is the cause of death.) 

The study, "Reconstructing the Life of an Unknown (ca. 500 Years-Old South American Inca) Mummy - Multidisciplinary Study of a Peruvian Inca Mummy Suggests Severe Chagas Disease and Ritual Homicide," was published today in PLoS One.

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