New DNA study of ‘Pepita’, the oldest mummy in Mexico

New DNA study of ‘Pepita’, the oldest mummy in Mexico

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Nugget”Was a girl barely two and a half years old when she died, possibly from a lung disease, in 300 B.C. Today is one of the oldest mummies in Mexico.

Since 2002, when it was discovered by residents of the Altamira community, in the Sierra Gorda de Querétaro, the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), with the support of other institutions, has made it various studies and conservation treatments; It is currently part of the collection of mummified bodies that is exhibited in the El Carmen Museum.

Within the framework of the exhibition 'Mummies Illusions of eternal life', The venue organized a series of conferences to broaden the public's knowledge of these collections which, in addition to awakening fantasies, are important bearers of information about the societies of the past.

The mummy “Pepita”, named after the people who made the find, was approached on the first day by archaeologist Elizabeth Mejía Pérez, a researcher at the INAH-Querétaro Center, who has been at the head of the multidisciplinary team that investigates the specimen since the Public Ministry put it in the hands of the INAH, after the report of the mountain people.

From the outset, the archaeologist said that in Querétaro little is known about the presence of mummiesHowever, three specimens have been found, among them “Nugget", One of the oldest in Mexico and that" has revealed to us aspects related to the early settlement of the Sierra Gorda ", through the multidisciplinary research project to which it has been submitted, in coordination with various areas of the INAH and support from other institutions such as UNAM.

"Although they have already passed 17 years since the discoveryWe continue working on their study because technological progress is going so fast that it allows us to continue obtaining valuable information from these bodies ”, he highlighted.

Elizabeth Mejía recalled that, At the beginning of the investigation, “Pepita” underwent a DNA study and today, 15 years later, another total DNA study is in process “Which means a huge advance for science, because before they were looking for specific things and today you can have everything, for example, if there is evidence of disease it is possible to trace the gene for the specific pathology. When this child mummy appeared we did not have that opportunity.

We assume that 'Pepita' died of a lung disease caused by the cold, and perhaps a sudden change in temperature led to such rapid drying; It is a question that will be investigated with total DNA, because it allows us to identify the specific gene of an infection ”, the archaeologist reiterated.

New DNA studies to know the lineage of ‘Pepita’

Previous DNA results indicate that the girl's maternal genetic group corresponds to the north-central part of the country; “You cannot define their ethnic affiliation, but we know that she is northern. And if we stick to certain definitions, it would be Chichimeca by maternal lineage ", said Elizabeth Mejía after referring that with the new DNA studies may also recover paternal genetic information.

The archaeologist assumes that the paternal lineage must correspond to the same northern people, "this from elements that accompanied the burial and that speak that both parents belonged to the same group, but that is one of the surprises that the total DNA keeps us ”.

In addition to the new genetic studies, still in process, the girl's mummy had its skin checked with a scanning electron microscope, to confirm if before her death she was bathed or washed with any substance.

The archaeologist has the hypothesis that this happened, although cannot define if it was a ritual or healing treatmentNor if it was before or after his death. What the study has already revealed is that indeed, the skin has evidence of a bath.

The researcher announced that the results will be published in a scientific journal; meanwhile, the sample was recently taken for the new DNA study, whose analysis will begin shortly.

The Project of the Archaeological Zone of Toluquilla

As a result of the discovery of “Pepita”, the INAH created a research project funded by the Toluquilla Archaeological Zone Project.

The northern region of the state, where the Sierra GordaIt is wild, with mountains and large ravines, with places that reach 600 meters above sea level, and the area of ​​the mountains 3,000 meters.

There is the Toluquilla Archaeological Zone, the largest in the state of Querétaro, possibly where the small mummy came from, since it is the closest settlement to the cave in which it was buried, said Elizabeth Mejía Pérez.

"Pepita" was transferred to the Museo del Templo Mayor, in Mexico City, where she was approached by a multidisciplinary team, led by Ximena Chávez Balderas. It was mechanically cleaned, stabilized and the temperature and humidity conditions were controlled for its conservation.

Likewise, after a meticulous laboratory study carried out at UNAM, he underwent a treatment for remove fungus. They also took samples from him for various analyzes and designed a guard for him.

The cave where “Pepita” was buried was also explored. The mortuary bundle was located inside one of the cave chambers, about 40 centimeters deep, surrounded by organic materials of vegetable and animal origin: stalks, palm leaves, biznagas, thorns, bagasse, strings and tree plants that belong to to the environment surrounding the site.

Among the materials there were also textile scraps made of cotton with pigment, "This is important because cotton does not grow in the highlands because the altitude makes it a very cold place," the researcher highlighted.

Likewise, the infant mummy had bird feathers associated with it, which were analyzed by the INAH biologist, Norma Valentín, who identified them as secondary covering feathers of a white stork (Mycteria americana), a migratory bird. Which indicates exchanges with other latitudes, said Elizabeth Mejía Pérez.

Before the discovery of “Pepita” it was not even known that there was human occupation in the Toluquilla regioncommented the archaeologist, after indicating that at some point it was thought that the population of this site began in 600 AD. C., "and the appearance of this girl from 300 BC. it's a great find. "

The physical anthropologists José Concepción Jiménez and Perla Estrella Pérez also participated in the first day of the conference cycle; the first, coordinator of the cycle and curator of the exhibition, referred to funeral customs, which have implicit various elements of an economic, social, political and cultural nature, and all this is embodied in a mummified body.

In addition, he exhibited on the ways of burying the dead during pre-Hispanic times, different in each cultural group; as well as in the colonial stage, in which the entire burial system changed, and this modification can be seen in the mummies.

The physical anthropologist Estrella Pérez addressed the process that the human body follows when it ceases to have life, from the early phenomena, such as rigidity, violet skin spots, loss of temperature, evaporation of water and sinking of the eyeball; to the immediate late processes: destructive, such as putrefaction, and conservative, such as mummification.

He also referred to the natural, artificial and intentional natural mummification processes.