Unique paleopathology in a pre-Columbian mummy remnant from Southern Peru--severe cervical rotation trauma with subluxation of the axis as cause of death

Sokiranski, Roman; Pirsig, Wolfgang; Richter, Hans-Peter; Lösch, Sandra; Struck, Ulrich; Nerlich, Andreas G (2011). Unique paleopathology in a pre-Columbian mummy remnant from Southern Peru--severe cervical rotation trauma with subluxation of the axis as cause of death. Acta neurochirurgica, 153(3), pp. 609-16. Wien: Springer 10.1007/s00701-010-0842-z

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We describe the multidisciplinary findings in a pre-Columbian mummy head from Southern Peru (Cahuachi, Nazca civilisation, radiocarbon dating between 120 and 750 AD) of a mature male individual (40-60 years) with the first two vertebrae attached in pathological position. Accordingly, the atlanto-axial transition (C1/C2) was significantly rotated and dislocated at 38° angle associated with a bulging brownish mass that considerably reduced the spinal canal by circa 60%. Using surface microscopy, endoscopy, high-resolution multi-slice computer tomography, paleohistology and immunohistochemistry, we identified an extensive epidural hematoma of the upper cervical spinal canal-extending into the skull cavity-obviously due to a rupture of the left vertebral artery at its transition between atlas and skull base. There were no signs of fractures of the skull or vertebrae. Histological and immunohistochemical examinations clearly identified dura, brain residues and densely packed corpuscular elements that proved to represent fresh epidural hematoma. Subsequent biochemical analysis provided no evidence for pre-mortal cocaine consumption. Stable isotope analysis, however, revealed significant and repeated changes in the nutrition during his last 9 months, suggesting high mobility. Finally, the significant narrowing of the rotational atlanto-axial dislocation and the epidural hematoma probably caused compression of the spinal cord and the medulla oblongata with subsequent respiratory arrest. In conclusion, we suggest that the man died within a short period of time (probably few minutes) in an upright position with the head rotated rapidly to the right side. In paleopathologic literature, trauma to the upper cervical spine has as yet only very rarely been described, and dislocation of the vertebral bodies has not been presented.

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Journal Article (Original Article)


04 Faculty of Medicine > Service Sector > Institute of Legal Medicine > Anthropology

UniBE Contributor:

Lösch, Sandra








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Date Deposited:

04 Oct 2013 14:21

Last Modified:

20 Feb 2020 06:11

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https://boris.unibe.ch/id/eprint/6870 (FactScience: 211914)

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