Mummy studies and the soft tissue evidence of care


Evidence of care in the bioarchaeological record has focused on two broad circumstances; (1) long term survival with disability in which functional independence is impossible and (2) healed/healing trauma or illness that would have necessitated intervention or care to ensure recovery and survival. These conditions reflect relatively extreme, life-or-death circumstances and thus provide the clearest opportunity to observe care. The preservation of soft tissue, however, not only affords the opportunity to observe a wider range of pathological conditions but presumably a greater chance of observing, or inferring, evidence of care. The first part of this paper is a synthesis of the degree to which researchers have engaged (explicitly or otherwise) with the concept of care in the analysis of mummified remains. The second component of the presentation will focus on the case of an 18th-19th century mummy from the Piraino Mother Church, in the province of Messina, Sicily. This individual exhibits evidence of pleural adhesions, whipworm infection, and skeletal evidence of multiple myeloma. Some level of care may be inferred based our understanding of the progression of this cancer. Care is more directly supported based on results of palynological analyses through which plants with known medicinal properties were identified.

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Cite this Record

Mummy studies and the soft tissue evidence of care. Kenneth Nystrom, Niels Lynnerup, Dario Piombino-Mascali. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 395739)