The rare disease that killed the mummy

The rare disease that killed the mummy

The "mummy of Guano", a city located in the Andean center of Ecuador, could be the missing link that makes it possible to understand the expansion in Europe of rheumatoid polyarthritis, according to some first studies, in Quito, of the French scientist Philippe Charlier.

42 years old, Charlier specialized in the analysis of ancient human remains and mummies, has participated in research projects of the remains of Adolf Hitler, in Moscow, as well as in studies of the remains of Joan of Arc and the reconstitution of the face of Maximilien Robespierre, among others.

Charlier arrived in Ecuador this week to study the so-called "Guano Mummy" and on his first approach on Tuesday he detected that the remains had deformations in fingers and toes, typical of rheumatoid polyarthritis.

"It is a disease native to Latin America and this may be the oldest case discovered with this disease," whose origin may be something genetic or infectious, he told Efe.

And for that, this mummy it can be the "missing link that allows us to know better the origin and the natural history of this disease", who arrived in Europe through the conquerors.

Studies determine that at the time of the conquest there were "many" cases of rheumatoid polyarthritis in America and in parallel "very rare" cases in Europe and Asia, he said.

"Let's go," he added, "to seek confirmation of the disease and genetic studies to know the region of origin of man, why he developed the disease and what other diseases he had that could favor the development of rheumatoid polyarthritis."

For 45,000 years Europe and America evolved in parallel, as well as diseases and "this man possibly corresponds to a time when the two worlds met and exchanged germs," ​​he said.

With his studies, Charlier will try to corroborate if indeed it is the remains of the Spanish Franciscan Fray Lázaro de Santofimia of about 45 years (XV or XVII century), found among the walls of the old convent of the Assumption that he cared for.

Under the baton of the French, tomographies, analysis of hair samples, genetic, fibroscopic and toxicological will be done to determine also the ways of life of the XVI century in the Andean province of Chimborazo.

According to a fistula of about six millimeters in the chin, which corresponds to the discharge of pus from a voluminous abscess at the level of the jaw, the expert concluded that a dental problem was the cause of death.

Study that will deepen with several analyzes, among them the tomographies made on Tuesday at the San Francisco de Quito University (USFQ).

With these first images, the individual can be reconstructed and from there, they can model three dimensions and confirm diagnoses, explained Maria Ordóñez, a researcher at the USFQ.

The mummy is extended in the dorsal ulna (face up), with the head semi-inclined forward, its arms crossed and you can even see part of the mummified skin and exposed bones, especially the legs.

With the scanner they discovered that the mummy keeps the brain, dry on one side, the heart, part of the lung, the kidneys, the prostate.

For the French expert – who arrived in Ecuador at the request of the Alliance Française – the mummy can also be the missing link of other diseases, which surprised him in "very good way".

Of 156 centimeters, with width of thorax of 36 centimeters and head of 32 centimeters, The mummy was found in 1949 while the rubble of an earthquake was being removed and, due to its natural state of mummification, it became the first corpse of its kind.

Next to her they found a small rat with a long tail, which was naturally mummified, and they will also study it to determine the diseases that it could transport helped by the fleas.

Director of research and study of the Quai Branly Museum (Paris) -a reference in the ethnographic museums of the world-, Charlier said he was surprised by the "excellent" state of conservation of the mummy, and said that in his institution "could not have done better ».

With his look of legal doctor, archaeologist-anthropologist considers that the mummy is like a window that can be opened to the past and allows "with all objectivity" to know the conditions of life to the past population, causes of death, used drugs.

"It's as if it came out of the fifteenth or seventeenth century to leave us a message: here is my story, my life," said Charlier, who will sign an agreement with the National Institute of Cultural Heritage to continue with the study of the mummy and other remains. in order to try to enter through that window into the past in order to better understand the present. EFE


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