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These 1,000-Year-Old Mummies Were Brutally Murdered, Study Finds

Scientists have exposed the brutal murders of two South American men who lived about 1,000 years ago by studying their mummmified remains, reports a new study. 

Clear signs of intentional violence are preserved on the male mummies, which originated in Chile and Peru, but are now housed in European museums, according to the study, which was published on Friday in Frontiers of Medicine. The research also included a female mummy from Peru who was determined to have died of natural causes.  

Researchers used CT-scans to reveal that the Chilean male suffered a blow to the head and a stab to the back, while the Peruvian male died from a strike to the cervical spine, which is the top portion of the spinal cord that encompasses the neck and connects to the skull. The results not only shed light into the fates of these murdered men, but also demonstrates how mummified bodies can fill gaps in our knowledge of ancient peoples in ways that skeletal remains cannot. 

“Here we show lethal trauma in two out of three South American mummies that we investigated with 3D CT,” said Andreas G. Nerlich, a professor at the Department of Pathology of Munich Clinic Bogenhausen in Germany who co-authored the study, in a statement. “The types of trauma we found would not have been detectable if these human remains had been mere skeletons.”

Whereas bones can show signs of trauma and even surgical procedures, mummified remains preserve soft tissues such as skin and organs, which are packed with information about the lives and deaths of ancient people. 

Nerlich and his colleagues used sophisticated and non-invasive scanning techniques to unlock some of the secrets of the Chilean mummy, which is housed at the ‘Museum Anatomicum’ of the Philipps University Marburg in Germany, and the two Peruvian mummies, which are in the collection of the Art and History Museum of Delémont in Switzerland. 

The male in the Marburg museum lived in northern Chile, and appears to have been young when he died, between 20 and 25 years old. He was buried with grave goods that hint at a life in a fishing community; his teeth show a diet rich in maize and his lungs contain signs of punishing struggles with tuberculosis. Radiocarbon dating suggests he was killed sometime between 996 and 1147 CE.

The mummies in the Delémont museum are thought to be from a volcanic region of southwestern Peru. The man was killed sometime between 902 and 994 CE, and struggled with arteriosclerosis while he was alive, while the woman died naturally between 1224 and 1282 CE. Both mummies were dressed in similar garments made of cotton and the hair of llamas, alpacas, and vizcachas.

There are many remaining mysteries about the circumstances of the murders, and the lives of these people more broadly. The researchers hope that their study will help spur more research into these questions, and inspire new examinations of mummies around the world using CT-scanning.

“Importantly, the study of human mummified material can reveal a much higher rate of trauma, especially intentional trauma, than the study of skeletons,” Nerlich said. “There are dozens of South American mummies which might profit from a similar investigation as we did here.”

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