MUNICH, Germany, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- The mystery of the unidentified mummy can be taken out of the cold case file and reclassified as "solved" -- thanks to the work of German scientists, who recently determined the age, origin and cause of death of a naturally mummified young woman who languished for decades in a Munich museum.
New research shows the mummy, recently rediscovered in museum archives, is more than 500 years old, hails from the ancient Incan Empire of South America, and perished as a result of a couple of sharp blows to the back of the head.
Scientists surmise that her murder was ritual sacrifice. The Incans regularly executed young women to appease the sun gods.
"We assumed she died in a ritual killing but we have no clear evidence from written sources," Professor Andreas Nerlich, a paleopathologist at Munich University, told BBC News. He and his colleagues have detailed their study of the previously ignored mummy in the latest issue of Plos One.
CT scans, injury reconstructions and DNA evidence helped the researchers piece together evidence of the young woman's early demise, as well as her place of origin. Until now, it was assumed the young woman was German -- one of the many well-preserved bodies recovered from Europe's peat bogs.
But the mummy's deformed skull is evidence of Incan head flattening practices, and DNA evidence indicated a diet of fish and corn, staples of the New World. The mummy's braided pigtails also featured llama hair, more evidence of her Incan past.
The young woman was not purposefully mummified, but was well preserved by her resting place in the arid climate and salty sands of the desert -- most likely northern Chile's Atacama Desert.
The mysterious mummy made its way to Germany at the end of the 19th century, after Princess Therese of Bavaria acquired two mummies on a trip to South America. Back in the south of Germany one of the mummies was lost while the other found its way into the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection in Munich. That's where the young woman rested for decades.
Analysis by the German researchers also determined that the woman suffered from Chagas disease, a parasite common among poorer villagers who lived in modest mud huts. She would have had difficulty breathing and digesting food.
"She might have been chosen as a victim for a ritual murder, because she was so ill and it might have been clear that she might have lived only for a relatively short period," Nerlich told Discovery News.
Not everyone's convinced the woman was sacrificed. Emma Brown, professor of archaeological sciences at the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom -- who did not participate in the study -- says the woman's murder could have just as easily been the result of European conquest.
"This individual is older than the usual profile of ritually killed females, who are typically around the age of 13 or 14," Brown told the BBC. "It is important to recognise the historical context of this mummy. The radiocarbon dates cover the period of the Spanish conquest of the Americas."