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Modeling ancient egyptian mummification on fresh human tissue: macroscopic and histological aspects


Papageorgopoulou, Christina; Shved, Natallia; Wanek, Johann; Rühli, Frank J (2015). Modeling ancient egyptian mummification on fresh human tissue: macroscopic and histological aspects. Anatomical Record, 298(6):974-987.

Abstract

Many studies have been concerned with the ancient Egyptian mummification method; nevertheless, little effort has been made to explore it experimentally. The goal of this study is to apply evidence-based diagnostic criteria and state-of-the art methodology in order to improve knowledge on soft tissues preservation and postmortem alterations. Two human lower limbs (LL) from a female donor were (1) “naturally” mummified by dry heat and (2) artificially in natron. At specific time intervals a macroscopic and radiological examination of the LL was performed and skin and muscle samples were taken for histological and biomolecular analysis. Temperature, humidity, pH, and weight of the LL were systematically measured. The mummification by dry heat was stopped after 7 days due to unexpected lack of mummification progress. The mummification in natron was completed successfully after 208 days. The humidity, the external temperature, and the pH were proven with Pearson correlation and principal component analysis as important factors for the mummification process. The steady removal of water from the tissues through the natron has prevented the putrefaction. This is also evident in the absence of bacteria or fungi through the microbiological analysis. The histological analysis revealed very good preservation of the skin and the muscle tissues. In the muscular sample certain degree of structural disintegration can be seen, particularly affecting the epimysium whilst in the skin samples the epidermis, especially the stratum corneum, is mostly affected. The samples show better preservation compared with ancient Egyptian sections and other mummified tissues from historic or forensic context.

Abstract

Many studies have been concerned with the ancient Egyptian mummification method; nevertheless, little effort has been made to explore it experimentally. The goal of this study is to apply evidence-based diagnostic criteria and state-of-the art methodology in order to improve knowledge on soft tissues preservation and postmortem alterations. Two human lower limbs (LL) from a female donor were (1) “naturally” mummified by dry heat and (2) artificially in natron. At specific time intervals a macroscopic and radiological examination of the LL was performed and skin and muscle samples were taken for histological and biomolecular analysis. Temperature, humidity, pH, and weight of the LL were systematically measured. The mummification by dry heat was stopped after 7 days due to unexpected lack of mummification progress. The mummification in natron was completed successfully after 208 days. The humidity, the external temperature, and the pH were proven with Pearson correlation and principal component analysis as important factors for the mummification process. The steady removal of water from the tissues through the natron has prevented the putrefaction. This is also evident in the absence of bacteria or fungi through the microbiological analysis. The histological analysis revealed very good preservation of the skin and the muscle tissues. In the muscular sample certain degree of structural disintegration can be seen, particularly affecting the epimysium whilst in the skin samples the epidermis, especially the stratum corneum, is mostly affected. The samples show better preservation compared with ancient Egyptian sections and other mummified tissues from historic or forensic context.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Institute of Evolutionary Medicine
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
610 Medicine & health
Language:English
Date:2015
Deposited On:28 May 2015 07:16
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 19:15
Publisher:Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Inc.
ISSN:1932-8486
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1002/ar.23134
PubMed ID:25998632

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