Rascar Capac, season 2 - EPISODE 2

Dossier ~ Thursday 26th October 2017

Interdisciplinary Research on Andean Mummies: CSI

For several months, we have contacted various foreign experts whose specialisation will help advance our study of mummies. Worthy of a televised police series such as CSI, we enter the laboratory accompanied by the finest sleuths. We are now trying to solve several enigmas regarding lifestyles and health status of mummified individuals and the times in which they lived, and discover the cause of their death!

The first specialist called Jean-Claude Alvarez, is head of the Pharmacology-Toxicology laboratory at CHU Garches and a forensic expert. Why him? He took hair samples to identify the intake of psychotropic substances such as coca, tobacco or other herbs used in rituals. This specialist took - when possible - whole locks of hair. Indeed, the hair grows about one centimeter per month. He will therefore be able to see an evolution in the substances intake from month to month.

We can therefore learn more about the lifestyle of these individuals (regular consumption?), refine the information as to their provenance (by the consumption of regional plants?) And also know their position in the social hierarchy. In the Inca era, the consumption of coca was, in fact, very controlled and not everyone could use it.

The second expert is Jean-Bernard Huchet, archaeo-entomologist at the University of Bordeaux I. He is therefore specialised in insects that have been trapped in archaeological remains. In the case of our mummies, this relates to 3 instances: insects related to the decomposition of the corpse, those related to the state of health and finally the so-called "museophages" species. During the decomposition of the corpse, different species of insects will "take advantage" of this body. They will eat, lay and grow. These can be found either in the textile layers (especially for funeral bundles), but also inside the body. Each species intervenes at a fairly precise moment and it is this that we can estimate the delay between the death of the person and the moment when he/she is buried, just like during a crime investigation. The discovery of lice and nits on several skulls also makes it possible to have a precise state of health of certain individuals. The mummy of a young child presented with a very large nits infestation, reveals that the child was in bad health. Finally some insects show that at some point the mummy was again accessible for insects that feed on organic matter; for example some traces of recent mites are visible on textiles. This will have to be carefully monitored when they return to the museum's storage.

Finally, the IRPA team, made up of Mathieu Boudin and Marco Bonafini, carried out the last sampling for the radiocarbon analyses that will allow us to date these individuals. So far, only 2 of the 7 mummies have been subjected to these examinations. We cannot wait to get the final results of all these analyses.

We cannot wait to get the final results of all these analyses.


Season 1

Read episode 1
See episode 2
See episode 3
See episode 4
See episode 5

Season 2

See episode 1

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