An ancient murder has been solved, thanks to modern analysis of a mysterious mummy.
The mummified remains of an Incan female have laid in a German museum for over a century. Until now, now one knew the cause of her death. A new examination of the body, however, reveals she was killed as she was hit on the head, by someone using a heavy object.
Her untimely death is tragic. However, it appears that she suffered from Chagas disease and would have died soon anyways. Chagas disease is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. The parasites had thickened her heart and the walls of her intestines, making it challenging for her to breathe or digest food. Researchers believe the condition may have led to her selection for a ritual sacrifice.
The mummy, along with a companion, first arrived in Europe in the 1890's, when Princess Therese of Bolivia acquired the artifacts in South America. One of the mummies quickly disappeared, and the other found a home in Munich, as part of the Bavarian State Archeological Collection. Most records recording the origin of the mummy were lost in the Second World War, while others disappeared when the museum changed locations. That left precious little information about the artifact for modern archeologists.
Andreas Nerlich, a paleopathologist at Munich University, used computer tomography (CT) to examine the mummified remains. His team discovered that although the head looked normal from the outside, the frontal bones of her skull had smashed.
"She must have received a couple of really severe hits by a sharp object to her skull just before her death. The skull bones that had been destroyed fell into her brain cavity, and they are still there today," Nerlich told Live Science.
The woman was between 20 and 25 years of age when she died, according to the study. Features in her skull, and hairbands found on the mummy suggest she was a member of the Inca, living in what is now Peru or Chile. She likely had a home near the seashore for most of her life, and tests show she ate large quantities of fish and corn. Analysis of one strand of hair shows she switched to a more land-based diet during the last ten months of her life. This suggests she may have moved inland.
"Despite an only small transverse wound of the supraorbital region computed tomography scans show an almost complete destruction of face and frontal skull bones with terrace-like margins, but without evidence for tissue reaction. The type of destruction indicates massive blunt force applied to the center of the face," researchers wrote in the study, published in PLOS ONE.
After she was murdered, the young woman was buried in the extremely arid conditions of the Atacama desert. The dry sand quickly drained the body of all water, preserving it for the ages.
The mummy will be on exhibit in Munich through the middle of August.