Partial mummification and extraordinary context observed in perinate burials: a complex osteoarcheological study applying ICP-AES, μXRF, and macromorphological methods

Abstract

Very small, green colored, partially mummified remains of a perinate individual were found buried in a ceramic pot with a copper coin in the Late Medieval cemetery of Nyárlőrinc-Hangár út (“Nyárlőrinc 3. lelőhely”) in southern Hungary. The remains must date back to the second half of the nineteenth century AD. In this paper; we present data gathered in a series of multidisciplinary investigations targeted to the partially mummified remains (ind. no. 14426) and two other non-mummified perinates (ind. no. 10662 and no. 14336) possibly buried under similar circumstances in the cemetery. Besides standard macromorphological and stereomicroscopic examinations, we compared Cu concentrations in the remains using ICP-AES and mapped Cu concentration changes using μXRF. The partially mummified perinate showed the highest Cu concentrations, while the individual buried without a possible Cu source showed the lowest. Body parts in the closer proximity of the copper coins always showed higher concentration. The mummified individual showed 497 times higher Cu values than average, and even the perinate buried without copper coin measured higher than the otherwise normal Cu content of the soil. Extremely high Cu values may be related to the corrosion of the coins included in the burials. Mummification must have been facilitated by copper deriving from the coins. Uneven Cu concentrations and only partial mummification of one of the individuals refer to the importance of other environmental factors involved in a possible quasi-natural mummification process. However, the Nyárlőrinc perinate burial no. 14426 may be the first solely copper-driven mummification case ever reported, and hopefully, more cases are to appear in the future.

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Correspondence to János Balázs.

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Gábor Galbács and György Pálfi contributed equally to this work as last authors.

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Balázs, J., Bereczki, Z., Bencsik, A. et al. Partial mummification and extraordinary context observed in perinate burials: a complex osteoarcheological study applying ICP-AES, μXRF, and macromorphological methods. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 10, 685–695 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-016-0391-3

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Keywords

  • Partial mummification
  • Copper
  • ICP-AES
  • μXRF
  • Perinate
  • Pot burial