Tomography of South American mummies told archaeologists about the details of ancient murders

(ORDO NEWS) — Despite the high frequency of violence in the prehistoric era, the circumstances of the events could not be clarified for a long time. New methods allow you to fully restore the details.

Scientists are always interested in the question of the frequency of violence in a particular prehistoric society.

And since there are no written sources here (otherwise the society would not have been called prehistoric), one has to rely on injuries found on the remains of people of the era of interest.

More recently, several studies have been published, the authors of which summarized information on South American societies that existed before the arrival of Europeans.

According to them, the level of injuries in pre-Columbian South America was quite high.

It is believed that 21 percent of men died violent deaths. This includes both victims of military conflicts and those who have suffered as a result of domestic violence.

Tomography of South American mummies told archaeologists about the details of ancient murders 2
This man was hit on the head and then stabbed in the back

Unfortunately, most of the research was done only on human skulls (from collections containing only cranial material), and very few works included whole human remains (mummies).

Meanwhile, in the skeletal material, only injuries affecting the bones can be identified, while in mummified human remains, traces of fatal injuries can also be found on soft tissues.

The journal Frontiers in Medicine published a paper whose authors studied three mummies from pre-Columbian South America using three-dimensional computed tomography. These mummies have been kept in European museums since the end of the 19th century.

Although mummies are usually thought of as the result of intentional preservation of remains (as in ancient Egypt), they can also form naturally when dry environments, such as deserts, “extract” fluids from a decomposing body faster than the decomposition process can take place, conditions found in some areas of South America.

Scientists examined two male and one female mummy. The first man lived in the north of modern Chile and died at the age of 20-25. He was buried in a sitting position.

Judging by the grave goods, the deceased was a fisherman. He had well-preserved but misaligned teeth with some wear, typical of pre-Columbian people who used corn as their staple food.

There were traces of severe tuberculosis in his lungs. According to radiocarbon dating results, he died between 996 and 1147 AD.

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Peruvian mummies: on the right – a man, on the left – a woman

Two other mummies (male and female), judging by the ceramics among the grave goods, came from the Arequipa region in the territory of modern southwestern Peru.

They were buried face up, which is unusual for mummies from the highlands of South America. According to radiocarbon analysis, the man died between 902 and 994 AD, and the woman between 1224 and 1282 AD.

After examining the results of computed tomography, the authors concluded that both men died on the spot from deliberate violence.

Scientists reconstructed the circumstances of death, and they found that the first man was put on his knees, then hit hard on the head, and then stabbed in the back.

In the mummy of the second man, they found a massive injury to the cervical spine, which, most likely, caused death.

The woman died of natural causes. She also revealed some damage to the skeleton, but this happened after death, probably during the burial.

The authors note that the availability of modern 3D-reconstructed CT scanners allows obtaining unique information about bodies that would otherwise be inaccessible.

Earlier research methods would have simply destroyed the mummy, and X-rays or old CT scanners without 3D reconstruction capabilities would not have been able to show the details that made it possible to understand the causes of death of these three people.

Scientists believe that CT scans of as many mummies as possible will give us a much more accurate picture of the frequency and even form of interpersonal conflict in ancient communities.


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