Korean Mummy's Hernia Diagnosed 300 Years Later
A 17th-century male mummy, called the Andong mummy, who was diagnosed with a diaphragmatic hernia.
June 28, 2011 --
Hundreds of bodies stacked one of top of the other emerged during restoration work in the church of Roccapelago, a remote mountain village in north-central Italy. About one-third of the mass grave, consisting of 281 bodies of adults, infants and children, turned out to be mummies. "We found about 100 mummies. We can say that an entire community, who lived here from the mid-16th to the 18th centuries, has been naturally mummified. This is quite unique," Donato Labate and colleagues from the Archaeological Superintendency of Emilia Romagna said.
Paolo Terzi /SBAER
Found in the crypt of the church, the mummies have hands clasped in prayer and feature intact skin, tendons, and hair. The bodies were unearthed fully dressed with tunics, thick socks and caps.
Paolo Terzi /SBAER
According to Iolanda Silvestri and Marta Cuoghi Costantini, ancient textile experts of the Institute for Cultural and Artistic Heritage of Emilia-Romagna, the clothes reveal a simple lifestyle. "Forget silk or elaborate embroidery, these people were dressed for the mountains," the researchers said. Made from wool, linen and cotton of different thickness,the clothes often featured simple laces with geometrical patterns at the wrists and neck.
The mummified bodies were accompanied by various personal items such as rings, necklaces, religious medallions and crucifixes in various materials -- gold, silver, wood, stone and glass. The archaeologists also found some mummified mice, which probably died because of the toxic miasma generated by the mass burial.
The archaeologists also unearthed a well preserved letter. Known as "lettera componenda," it was supposed to serve as a sort of an agreement between God and the deceased. In the letter, the dead person asks for five pardons in exchange of prayers. The letter was found buried within the crypt and had probably been placed over one of the bodies.
Two openings in the church's wall ensured a constant airing within the crypt and helped the process of natural mummification. The researchers believe that the crypt was initially used as a traditional grave, with bodies buried in the ground. In a later period, dead people -- fully dressed and wrapped in bags or shrouds -- were dropped from a trap door in the floor of the church above.
Many bodies were found in very unusual postures. According to the researchers, the odd positions are due to the dropping from opening above. Most of the bodies were found stacked to form a pyramid. The top of this pyramid pile was in correspondence with the trap door above.
Study of the mummies, which has already started, reveals that several individuals were hard workers. Further investigations will try to shed light on the community’s lifestyle, the diet, diseases and hygiene. Research will include analysis of pathological conditions, osteological and histological examinations, investigations of teeth, DNA analysis, as well as the creation of 3D facial reconstruction of some of the most interesting mummies.
According to the researchers, the investigation is particularly interesting because it involves a small and rather isolated community of people whose lives centered around the church of Conversione di San Paolo Apostolo in Roccapelago, in the middle of the Emilia Romagna Apennines. At the end of the study, some mummies will be displayed in the church. The other bodies will be moved from the laboratory in Ravenna where they are now being examined, and buried within the grounds of the 16th century church.
This diagnosis is 300 years too late.
An autopsy of a Korean mummy entombed in the 17th century shows that the middle-age man suffered from a potentially painful hernia during his lifetime, according to a new study.
The mummy, only discovered last year, had been buried in a royal tomb of Korea's Chosun (or Joseon) Dynasty in Andong, a city in modern-day South Korea. The well-preserved remains belonged to a man who was about 45 years old and 5 feet, 3 inches (160.2 cm), the researchers said in their report published this month in the journal PLOS ONE. Based on his topknot hairstyle, archaeologists concluded that the man was married. [See Images of the Korean Mummy and CT Scans]
Before he died, the middle-age man may have roamed the streets of Andong with pain in his chest and abdomen. Perhaps he was sometimes short of breath or nauseated. But he wouldn't have known what was wrong with him; doctors have only been able to diagnose his condition, known as Bochdalek-type congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), with the advent of radiological imaging technologies, such as X-ray and computed tomography (CT) scans, in the 20th century.
Bochdalek hernias arises from a birth defect that causes a hole in the diaphragm, the dome-shaped muscle that stetches across the bottom of the lungs. Other organs in the abdomen might push through this hole into the chest cavity, compressing one or both of the lungs and moving the heart.
A computed tomography (CT) scan of the mummy hinted that something was wrong with the placement of the man's organs. An autopsy confirmed that there was indeed a hole in his diaphragm and that several of his organs were herniated, including the right lobe of his liver, part of his stomach and part of his colon, the scientists said.
The researchers, led by Yi-Suk Kim of Ewha Womans University in Seoul, South Korea, looked for other complications that may have been caused by the man's condition, such as perforation or strangulation of his herniated organs, which often causes death in Bochdalek CDH patients today. However, the scientists found no such evidence for these problems.
"This means that the CDH itself might not have been the main cause of death in his case," the authors wrote. "He could have lived with CDH in this lifetime while experiencing a few signs of respiratory disturbances. We suspected that the functional defects caused by the CDH in the present male mummy case might have been largely compensated for as he grew older."
The researchers pointed to a modern example for comparison: a 50-year-old Chinese woman who suffered from a "tremendous" Bochdalek hernia, but showed few clinical signs of the condition. According to her case report, detailed in the Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery, a CT scan revealed that her abdominal organs had invaded the left side of her chest cavity, crushing her left lung and pushing her heart against her right lung. And yet, the patient only complained of mild shortness of breath.