Research Article: Evidence of neurofibromatosis type 1 in a multi-morbid Inca child mummy: A paleoradiological investigation using computed tomography

Date Published: April 12, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Stephanie Panzer, Holger Wittig, Stephanie Zesch, Wilfried Rosendahl, Sandra Blache, Magdalena Müller-Gerbl, Gerhard Hotz, Dong Hoon Shin.


In this study, an Inca bundle was examined using computed tomography (CT). The primary aim was to determine the preservation status of bony and soft tissues, the sex, the age at the time of death, possible indicators for disease or even the cause of death, as well as the kind of mummification. A secondary aim was to obtain a brief overview of the wrapping in order to gain additional information on the cultural background.

The bundle belongs to the Museum of Cultures in Basel, Switzerland, and was bought in Munich, Germany, in 1921. Radiocarbon dating of the superficial textile yielded a calibrated age between 1480 and 1650 AD. The mummy was investigated using multi-slice CT with slice thickness of 0.75 mm and 110 kilovolt. For standardized assessment of soft tissue preservation, a recently developed checklist was applied.

CT revealed the mummy of a seven to nine year old boy with superior preservation of bony and soft tissues allowing detailed assessment. Indicators of neurofibromatosis type 1 (paravertebral and cutaneous neurofibromas, a breast neurofibroma, sphenoid wing dysplasia), Chagas disease (dilatation of the esophagus, stomach, rectum, and large amounts of feces), and lung infection (pleural adherence, calcifications), probably due to tuberculosis, were found. Furthermore, signs of peri-mortem violence (transection of the chest and a defect in the abdominal wall) were detected. CT images revealed a carefully performed wrapping.

CT examination of the Inca bundle proved to be an important non-destructive examination method. Standardized assessment, especially of the soft tissue structures, allowed for diagnoses of several diseases, indicating a multi-morbid child at the time of death. The careful wrapping pointed to a ceremonial burial. Within the cultural background, the signs of fatal violence were discussed as a possible result of war, murder, accident, or human sacrifice.

Partial Text

Bioarchaeology (the scientific study of human remains from archaeological sites) provides insight into the biological status, including diseases, of past people [1]. Paleoradiology is the study of bioarchaeological materials using modern imaging methods, such as X-ray radiography, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging, and micro-CT [2]. The first CT examination of an Egyptian mummy was reported in 1979 [3] and since then CT developed into the “gold-standard” for human mummy studies due to its non-destructive nature, high spatial resolution, image contrast, and the possibility of different post-processing modalities [4–12].

CT examination of this child mummy allowed for age estimation at the time of death, detailed assessment of the preservation status, especially of the soft tissues, and diagnoses of diseases. Furthermore, distinct signs of violence led to speculations on the circumstances of the child’s death within its cultural environment.

CT examination of the Inca bundle proved to be an important non-destructive examination method. CT images revealed a male child mummy with superior bony and soft tissue preservation. Standardized assessment, especially of the soft tissue structures, allowed for the diagnosis of NF1, the quite certain diagnosis of Chagas disease and the diagnosis of lung infection, probably due to tuberculosis. Additionally, the multi-morbid child seemed to have been cachectic at time of dead. The careful wrapping pointed to a ceremonial burial. Furthermore, CT revealed signs of fatal peri-mortem violence. Within the cultural background, hypothesis on the reason of this violence included war, battle, murder, accident, and human sacrifice.




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