(ORDO NEWS) — One of the mysteries of the past that can be revealed by studying skulls and skeletons is how common violence was among our ancestors.
However, due to the preservation of soft tissues, mummified remains can be an even more telling indicator than bones.
This allowed scientists to make a new analysis of three pre-Columbian South American mummies, using three-dimensional computed tomography (3D CT), which uses X-rays to view the inside of the remains without the need for them to be dissected.
The study showed that two of these three people were brutally murdered.
These are naturally mummified bodies formed in a dry environment where liquid is absorbed into the body’s surroundings faster than decomposition occurs. Such conditions are common in southern South America.
“Here we see fatal injuries in two of the three South American mummies that we examined using 3D CT,” says pathologist Andreas Nerlich from Munich’s Bogenhausen Hospital in Germany.
“The types of injuries that we found would not have been found if these human remains were just skeletons.”
The mummy of a man from the Philipp University of Marburg, Germany, originally belonged to the Arica culture in what is now northern Chile.
He most likely lived in a fishing community and showed signs of severe tuberculosis on his lungs. Between the ages of 20 and 25, according to radiocarbon dating, this man died between 996 and 1147 AD.
As for the mummies of a man and a woman from the Delemont Museum of Art and History in Switzerland, they probably come from the Arequipa region in what is now southwestern Peru.
The man is believed to have died between 902 and 994 AD, and the woman between 1224 and 1282 AD.
In two male mummies, researchers found signs of “interpersonal violence” – violence that could have killed them on the spot.
It appears that the Marburg mummy died from a severe blow to the head and a stab to the back, which may have been inflicted by one or two attackers.
Regarding the mummy of the Delemont man, the study noted “an extensive injury to the cervical spine, which most likely caused death” – thus, a strong blow to the back of the neck, most likely, caused his death.
Although the mummy of the Delémont woman also had skeletal damage, it is believed that they occurred after death, probably at the time of burial.
“The availability of state-of-the-art 3D-rendered CT scanners provides unique information about bodies that would not otherwise be found,” says Nerlich.
“Previous studies would have either destroyed the mummy, and X-rays or old CT scanners without 3D reconstruction capabilities would not have been able to detect diagnostic key features,
Chilling as the results of the study are, studying these deaths and these types of violence is incredibly useful for getting a more complete picture of how these ancient civilizations lived and got along – or did not get along.
Although mummified remains are not as common as skeletons, they are still plentiful and preserved in museums, and they can do the same scientific detective work.
“Importantly, the study of mummified human material can reveal a much higher rate of injury, especially intentional, than the study of skeletons.”
“There are dozens of South American mummies that could benefit from our study,” says Nerlich.
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