Maya and Aztec

Ancient Mesoamerican civilizations

Mummies in Mexico undergo investigation

Category: News reports

INAH, March 30, 2009. The project “Mummies in Mexico” has studied for a decade the mummification process in our country. Josefina Mancilla Lory, researcher at the Physical Anthropology Direction (DAF) of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) is the woman in charge of the multidisciplinary team that investigates archaeological and historical human rests as well as the embalming register. In 1998 Mancilla and her team decided to develop an unprecedented in Mexico line of investigation parting from the INAH collection, conformed by more than 40 mummies. The remains date from the Late Classic Prehispanic period to Contemporary age.

Scientific findings have showed that mummified corpses in Mexico go back to Prehispanic practices. Most mummies were found in dry climates, caves, crypts and other places were corpses dry out quickly, avoiding the natural putrefaction process. The states where more mummy samples have been found are Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango and Tamaulipas. The semi desert climate protected corpses from rotting.

Mummification process is associated in Mexico with 2 circumstances, being the first a ritual-ceremonial one. Studies conducted during these years concluded it was intentional, since social groups that practiced it knew the process and applied it; knowledge was empiric. The second circumstance is in part product of chance: by the end of Prehispanic age and beginning of Colonial, corpses were buried in churches’ atriums or caves where natural conditions favored conservation.

Until now, it has been possible to identify precedence, date and some archaeological data regarding the collection samples, lodged in the warehouse of the National Museum of Anthropology (MNA) to keep their good conservation state.

Other important task of the Mummies of Mexico Project is application of vanguard forensic and diagnosis medicine techniques, such as axial tomography, ultrasound, nuclear resonance and radiology to study the mummified rests. The use of these medical imaging techniques allows observation of the internal structure of the body, revealing the presence of organs, possible lesions and other information that helps determine sex and age. Stereolitography is a contemporary technique that permits three-dimensional reconstruction of the subject.

Mancilla mentioned that it is a misfortune that many of the mummies were handed over to INAH without register of funerary aspects or other information that would allow their anthropological study, which has forced the team to establish a particular register system and focus research in the physical aspect, without the possibility of studying the social and cultural context of the corpse. Previously to Mummies of Mexico Project, only isolated antecedents existed, as DNA, bacteriological and fungus studies, always with specific purposes. To present, all this information is collected and analyses criteria are unified, which allows the advance of the mummified rests’ research.

Source: INAH

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