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Mummy Murder Mystery: Inca Woman Victim of Foul Play

Image: Frontal view of a 500-year-old Incan mummy
Frontal view of the 500-year-old Incan mummy which reveals typical squatting position (although the legs are broken off below both knees). Panzer et al. / PLoS ONE

A mysterious mummy that languished in German collections for more than a century is that of an Inca woman killed by blunt-force trauma to the head, new research reveals.

The story began in the 1890s, when Princess Therese of Bavaria acquired two mummies during a trip to South America. One was soon lost, but the other somehow made its way to the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection in Munich. [See Images of the Murdered Inca Mummy]

To learn more about the enigmatic remains, Andreas Nerlich, a paleopathologist at Munich University, and his colleagues put the mummy through a computed tomography (CT) scanner.

From the outside, the mummy's head looked fairly normal, but the frontal bones of the skull were completely destroyed. "She must have received a couple of really severe hits by a sharp object to her skull just before her death," which killed her, Nerlich told Live Science.

The woman's skull structure, diet (determined by isotopes found in the hair), and hairbands woven from alpaca or llama hair point to a South American origin.

One possibility is that she was killed in a ritual murder, just as other Inca mummies were.

"She might have been chosen as a victim for a ritual murder, because she was so ill and it might have been clear that she might have lived only for a relatively short period," Nerlich said.

Nerlich's findings are available on the journal PLOS ONE.

— Tia Ghose, Live Science

This is a condensed version of a report from Live Science. Read the full story.

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