A mummy that has lain in Bavarian museum collections for over a hundred years recently gave up surprising secrets.
Originally thought to have been a bog body from the Munich area, the mummy was kept in the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection for forty years. Recent forensic tests on the mummy reveal it is not actually Bavarian in origin — and not even European.
Although it is the dark brown colour characteristic of bog bodies, other aspects show that it is not a bog body at all.
It is a relic from South America brought back by a science-minded princess in 1898; the body is an Inca mummy of a young woman. Where was she from? How and when had she lived? Was her demise natural, or was she murdered?
Mystery Mummy Forensics
“Since no records were available on the origin, life and living conditions, we used a broad panel of techniques to unravel the “life story” of the female individual resulting in an intriguing observation with an unexpected paleopathological and forensic outcome,” writes Stephanie Panzer and her co-authors of Reconstructing the Life of an Unknown (ca. 500 Years-Old South American Inca) Mummy.
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They traced the most recent hundred years of its history from its arrival in the Anatomical Institute of the Ludwig-Maximilians University in 1904, and transfer to the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection at Munich in 1970. The team discovered that the mummy lost its lower legs during a bombing raid in World War Two.
The researchers subjected the mummy to a rigorous forensic examination using comprehensive methods that mummification expert Dr. Zahi Hawass developed for understanding the full history, context and content of Egyptian mummies such as Pharaoh Tutankhamun.
The Munich mummy was also seen as a potential bioarchive since its internal organs were likely present. First, they subjected the body and its circumstances to a full appraisal worthy of any CSI team.
Why This Is Not a Bog Body
Similarities with European bog bodies include the mummy’s age of mid- to early twenties and evidence of ritual sacrifice. She had eaten a rich diet in the last few months of life, just like the ritually slaughtered Irish bog bodies. Most significant, a blow to her skull caused injuries similar to those found in ritual homicides.
There are many differences between this mummy and European bog bodies. The murder victim is female – rare among European ritually sacrificed bog bodies. The time frame is different; carbon dating shows she is only 500 years old while bog bodies date 1500 to 4000 years old.
Bones on bog bodies tend to become decalcified yet CT scans showed this mummy retained its skeleton. Also the mummified person has been historically removed from their burial environment. Outwardly, the appearance of her hair and the thin rope ties holding her plaits together were not characteristic of European bog bodies.
Mummy of Young Inca Woman
Several particular pieces of evidence point to the fact that this is a South American mummy. Tests show that the rope ties on the plaits are made of an animal fibre suggestive of camel relatives such as lama and alpaca, South American species.
Tests on the hair found that through most of her life the young woman had eaten a diet of maize and sea-food characteristic of the ancient Inca population of Southern Chile and Northern Peru. This only changed in the last two months of her life.
Skull osteology and computer simulated skull reconstruction revealed two markers of Inca ancestry. One was the slightly elongated shape, caused by binding in infancy which slightly flattened the sides. The other was the presence of ‘the Inca bone’, an extra small skull plate, an anatomical variation that is never found in Europeans.
Internal evidence from the body showed that this young Inca woman had carried a parasitic infection since babyhood that had damaged her heart and intestines. This condition, Chagas disease, is still known today in South America. The infection would have caused her death while still in her twenties, researchers believe.
Inca Mummy Mystery Solved by Forensic Anthropology
Co-author Andreas Nerlich told Decoded Past that, in his opinion, the most interesting aspect of these findings is that, “in this mummy, we can identify such a huge amount of information on an otherwise not historically recorded individual from 500 years ago by combination of various modern analytical techniques; this helps to identify many major aspects of her life and living conditions including her death.”
The Munich research team applied a multidisciplinary approach to questions of identity of a mummified young woman exhibited in a museum. By following archival evidence and researching local history, the team proved that it was likely the mummy came to Bavaria as part of a collection gathered by Princess Therese von Bayern on an expedition to Peru in 1898.
Inca Mummy: Violent Death and a Mystery
The rest of the story unfolded as experts applied modern forensic method to the remains. Her death was violent, but evidence of a ritual element is not clear. Without knowing the location where the body became mummified, the exact nature of the weapon of execution or any basic archaeological context, this is as far as modern experts can solve the mystery of the Inca mummy of a young woman.© Copyright 2014 Val Williamson, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Past