Trent University anthropologist reveals lifestyle clues of Inca mummies

November 14th, 2007 - 8:37 am ICT by admin  
Professor Williams sampled different tissues from 500-year-old mummies at an ancient cemetery that she discovered underneath the coastal town of Tupac Amaru, near Peruvian capital Lima.

She examined bone, skin, hair, nail, tendon and muscle to test for chemical signatures left behind by the various foods consumed by these people.

“Because bone develops very slowly, it records diets for the past 15 years, and hair, which grows at a rate of one centimetre per month, records diets in the weeks before death,” explained Prof. Williams.

By comparing the short- and long-term diets of these Inca remains, Prof. Williams was able to determine the types of foods that were eaten and how this impacted the overall health of the community.

Based on carbon isotope data, she noted seasonal fluctuations in diet with corn consumed primarily in the summer and tubers (like potatoes) consumed primarily in the winter.

The study demonstrated that people in this valley relied primarily on cultivated foods.

The data enabled Professor Williams to conclude that the overall health of the Peruvian population was precarious since they did not have access to stored food in any quantity food, an important means of surviving crop failures.

Her research also revealed that more people died in the summer than the winter.

“Through this research we were able to determine that there were fewer dietary choices during the summer which compromised nutrition and likely made this population more susceptible to summertime diseases,” she said.

Professor Williams presented this paper in February 2007 as part of the sixth Mummy Congress that took place in Teguise, Canary Islands. (ANI)

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