Mummy Mystery Solved: It Was Murder

Incan woman died from blunt force trauma 500 years ago

By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 27, 2014 10:58 AM CST

(Newser) – She's been known to German archaeologists for more than a century, but they only now know where a mysterious mummy came from—and how she died. The study in PLoS One explains that the mummified woman was brought to Bavaria in the 1900s. It's possible she was acquired by Princess Therese von Bayern during a 1898 trip to Peru, though the study authors note that is according to her own records, and no documentation exists. But it's now clear that the mummy did indeed hail from South America, the BBC reports, where she was killed by blunt-force trauma to the head; the researchers suspect the killing came as part of a ritual sacrifice.

Though the mummy visually appeared relatively normal, a CT scan showed "she must have received a couple of really severe hits by a sharp object," study co-author Andreas Nerlich of Munich University tells LiveScience. "The skull bones that had been destroyed fell into her brain cavity, and they are still there today." An analysis of isotopes in her hair revealed a fish- and maize-heavy diet, indicating she likely lived near the Peruvian or northern Chilean coast—according to carbon dating, sometime between AD 1451 and 1642. After death, she was buried in a hot, dry, and sandy region that facilitated natural mummification. The researchers learned the woman wasn't long for this world anyway: She also suffered from Chagas disease, a parasitic infection that would have killed her. Her remains could now help scientists better understand the pathogen's origins; Chagas disease remains endemic in the continent, the BBC notes.

The unfortunate mummy.
The unfortunate mummy.   (Andreas Nerlich)
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