Uncovering the Life and Death of a Mummy

Frontal view of the mummy
Panel A of Figure 1 shows the frontal view of the mummy. Panzer, S. et al. (2014) 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. PLoS ONE 9(2): e89528. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0089528

Deciphering how an ancient person lived and died is based heavily on the context of the buried body or mummy, including the soil around the gravesite, artifacts present in the grave and if nothing else, the location of the remains. What happens when there is no context? With skeletal remains or even bone fragments, which is primarily what is found at many burial sites, there is some information that can be derived but mummies that include tissue as well as bone offer a greater opportunity to learn about a deceased individual’s life. A recently published PLOS ONE article of a bog body identified using analyses across several scientific fields demonstrates how we can uncover the story of a person who lived several centuries ago based on her mummified remains. Continue reading “Uncovering the Life and Death of a Mummy”

Protein Profiling of a Lung Infection in a 500-Year-Old Mummy

Mycobacterium tuberculosis Bacteria, the Cause of TB Scanning electron micrograph of Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria, which cause TB. Credit: NIAIDI am fascinated by all the ways that scientists are taking sensitive techniques and using them to look into our past. For example, scientists constructed the entire genome of Yersinia pestis, the caustive agent of the Black Death, from teeth and bone samples of plague victims from the 14th century. Without methods like polymerase chain reaction (PCR), such an analysis could not be performed. My fellow blogger Terri discussed how a postmortem autopsy of Ozti, a mummy found in the Alps, used modern techniques to learn not only what color his eyes were but that he suffered from Lyme disease. In a recent PLOS ONE article, Corthals et al. took this analysis of preserved human remains further to determine if a mummy from the Andes in Argentina may have suffered from an active lung infection, testing for an immune response by protein profiling. Continue reading “Protein Profiling of a Lung Infection in a 500-Year-Old Mummy”