A mysterious mummy that languished in German collections for more than a century is that of an Incan woman killed by blunt-force trauma to the head, new research reveals.
A new analysis shows that the mummy was once an Incan woman who also suffered from a parasitic disease that thickens the heart and intestinal walls, raising the possibility that she was killed in a ritual murder because she was already on the brink of death.
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 Incan Mummy]
Bombings and geographic moves destroyed any documentation of the mummy, so little was known about its origin, said study co-author Andreas Nerlich, a paleopathologist at Munich University.
To learn more about the enigmatic remains, Nerlich 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 skull bones that had been destroyed fell into her brain cavity, and they are still there today," he added.
After the woman died, she was buried shallowly, likely in the bone-dry Atacama Desert, where the parched sand and air quickly sucked all the fluids out of her body, halting decomposition and naturally mummifying her, Nerlich said. [In Photos: The 10 Driest Places on Earth]
Several lines of evidence point to the woman's Incan origin.