Monday, 30 January 2012

Paula Veiga - What science and history can learn from human remains.

Paula Veiga - What science and history can learn from human remains.
Paula presented her paper in an academic style, challenging for the non academic audience but it was a paper full of interest. I have extracted bullet points from the paper which I have a hard copy of.
• There are international guidelines for the handling of human remains
• Mummy investigation started in the 1800 with public unwrapping
• Today the latest non invasive techniques are used to investigate such as CT Scanning complimented by other techniques histology, serology, radiology7 aDNA research, osteology and other paleopathology techniques chemistry, isotope and carbon test finally macroscopic examination
• Radiology started to be used in 1895
• From ancient bodies we can learn
o Diet (plant remains)
o Diseases (what is a modern disease caused by pollutants)
o Causes of death
o Crop failure
o Climate changes
o Bacteria
o Animal wounds
o Trauma (battle wounds)
o Genetic diseases
o Parasitic infestation e.g. lice, Nile worms
• Ancient plant remains give us clues about ancient medical treatment
o Can this be used for modern treatment
o Development of modern drugs
o Can be grown from ancient seed and DNA comparison made (In Jerusalem they have grown a date palm from a 2000 year old seed)
• Human remains need to preserved and carefully handled
• Investigation can be restricted by location or finances
• Mummification consisted of
o Physical preservation
o Religious rites
• During mummification flies can lay eggs, mould can develop and the mummification can be poorly done all leading to decay
• Damage done to the body can be
o Ante mortem(before death)
o Peri Mortem (At the moment of death)
o Post Mortem(after death)
• Damage can be caused by
o Trauma at death
o Robbery
o Animal scavenging
• The skin is black which gave the name mummia after the Arabic word for bitumen caused by the mummification process and the use of resins after mummification
• Some small parts of the body go missing like fingers and toes
• Most mummies come from New Kingdom onwards making investigation of Old Kingdom and Middle kingdom mummies restricted.
o Certain mummification techniques impair the retrieval of DNA
o Preliminary results are given firm conclusion status by the media
o DNA decomposes with time
o Contamination from handling, storage etc
• Endoscope and microscope analysis is very useful
• Coffins don’t always fit bodies resulting in damage to the skeleton
• Analysis of the foetus in Tutankhamen’s tomb could resolve their parentage and relationship to each other
• DNA analysis of the mould in Tutankhamen’s walls paintings revealed that it was ancient growth now dead not modern contamination
• Prosthetics were used in both life and death
o To replace missing parts of the body
o Toe prosthetic proved to be used in life
• Hair extensions and hair dressing was practised on mummies
• Adolescent pregnancy is found
• Diseases found
o Calcification of the aorta in meat eating high status individuals
o Arteriosclerosis
o Atheroma
o Fibrosis
o Aneurysms
o Damage to bones from carrying heavy loads, battles, horse riding, boat accidents or sport
o Nutritional stress
o Osteomyelitis
• The Nile is the cause of many diseases
• Tuberculosis
• Dental disease was extensive
• Tutankhamen and his relatives had malaria
• Storage in museums is harming mummies because of increased humidity
• Covering Human mummies is still controversial
• Paula is currently studying the link between Osiris and plants
As an aside there is a news paper report about the discovery of prostate cancer in a mummy which casts doubt that it is a modern disease

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