, 2022-12-13 09:26:35,
Researchers use advanced genomic sequencing, historical archives, and genealogical tracing to determine the identity of an ancient mummy.
History is replete with examples of lethal medical interventions, such as inhaling mercury vapors to treat syphilis.1 While widely prescribed in the 1700s, this treatment fell out of vogue when scientists discovered that mercury causes heavy metal toxicity. In a study published in Forensic Science International: Genetics, a multidisciplinary research team used historical archives, genealogical tracing, and advanced genomic sequencing to identify a Swiss mummy who likely succumbed to mercury poisoning in the 1700s.2
“Why do we study mummies? We are interested in the past and what we can learn from it,” said Albert Zink, senior author of the study and director of the Institute for Mummy Studies at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy. This mummy’s identity was a mystery since her unearthing in 1975. In 2017, newly discovered archival records helped genealogists narrow down a candidate for the mummy’s identity, create a family tree, and identify three potential living descendants.2,3 Thus began the work of Zink’s team to confirm the mummy’s identity by comparing her DNA to that of her proposed living relatives.
In addition to being toxic, mercury also preserves mummies remarkably well. Frank Maixner, co-author and coordinator of the Institute for Mummy Studies at Eurac Research said that “mercury in higher concentrations…
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