Inca Mummy: ‘Maiden’ Had Lung Infection When Sacrificed, Study Suggests
The so-called Maiden mummy of a 15-year-old Incan girl who was sacrificed 500 years ago is giving up some secrets, revealing the teenager suffered from a bacterial lung infection at the time of her death, scientists report Wednesday (July 25).
The researchers analyzed tissue proteins, rather than DNA, from the Maiden and another young Inca mummy who died at the same time.
Over the last decade, DNA techniques have proven useful in helping solve ancient mysteries, such as how King Tut died. But these techniques aren’t without faults. For example, finding evidence of a malaria-causing parasite in King Tut’s system doesn’t necessarily mean the Egyptian king suffered any malaria symptoms. Additionally, the environment can easily contaminate DNA samples, if researchers aren’t careful.
On the other hand, analyzing a sample’s proteins, which are less susceptible to environmental contamination, yields a whole different set of information. “Being the expression of DNA, proteins really show you what the body is producing at the time when the individual is being sampled — or, in our case, at the time of death,” study researcher Angelique Corthals, a forensic anthropologist at the City University of New York, told LiveScience. In particular, proteins can tell you if the body’s immune system has activated to fight a disease, she added.