A female mummy housed in a German collection now has a cause for her death centuries ago, thanks to a new study.
Analysis of the skull reveal she was killed by blunt force trauma to the head. While the mummy’s head looked normal, the frontal bones of the skull were shattered.
"She must have received a couple of really severe hits by a sharp object to her skull just before her death," Andreas Nerlich, a paleopathologist at Munich University, told Live Science.
The remains, which were recovered in the 1890s when Princess Therese of Bavaria acquired two mummies on a trip to South America, also tell a story of illness.
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DNA analysis shows the woman had a parasitic infection known as Chagas disease that can cause cardiac, digestive and neurological complications. For more than 100 years, the remains were housed in the Bavarian State Archeological Collection before being examined by researchers who set out to identify the mummy’s origin.
Scientists studied the skeleton and organs and ran a DNA analysis, performed a complete body CT scan, isotope analysis, tissue histology, molecular identification of ancient parasitic DNA and forensic injury reconstruction.
Results show the woman is more than 500 years old and most likely died in her early 20s. Despite her apparently brutal killing, researchers say the disease was so advanced that she would not have survived much longer.
Parasitic DNA found in the mummy’s rectum tissue samples along with evidence of thickening of the heart and intestines are clear signs of Chagas disease. Researchers say the latest results can help track the origin of the parasitic disease and its molecular makeup.
While the exact location of where she lived is not confirmed, an isotope analysis of her bones suggest she lived on a diet that was rich in fish. Before the latest study published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers had previously thought she was a German bog body, the BBC reports.
While the new study provides a wealth of information on the ancient woman’s life, there are still lingering questions.
"We assumed she died in a ritual killing, but we have no clear evidence from written sources," Nerlich said.
Emma Brown, of the department of archaeological sciences at the University of Bradford in England, who was not involved with the study, says there’s also a gap in contextual data that can confirm the young woman died as a human sacrifice.
"This individual is older than the usual profile of ritually killed females, who are typically around the age of 13 or 14," Brown told the BBC. "Historical records describe repressive and extreme forms of violence and recent bio-archaeological investigations of conquest-era cemeteries have revealed that many types of trauma, including massive blunt force cranial trauma [shown here] are quite common."