More than 6,400 years ago, a native of what is now Peru died from a very rare, but very serious congenital heart defect before he even turned one. Today, the infant’s mummified body is housed (and displayed) in the Lippisches Landesmuseum in Detmold, Germany, after arriving in the country in 1987. The Detmold Child, as the mummy is now called, was first given as a private donation to the Witzenhausen Ethnological Museum (located near Kassel), but after it became infested with mold, it had to be transferred to Detmold for professional conservation. The Lippisches Landesmuseum specialists managed to save the ancient mummy from decay, and then proceeded to examine it more closely.
Based on dental examination, the specialists learned that at the time of death the Detmold Child was only 8-10 months old. CT scansrevealed that the body of the Detmold Child was wrapped in linen and buried with a bone amulet around his neck. His eyes were closed, his arms folded, and his legs crouched in a burial pose specific to his cultural background. The skull of the infant was conical and elongated, but not as a result of artificial cranial modification.The infant was suffering from oxycephaly, a cephalic disorder also known as ‘tower skull’ or ‘high-head syndrome’. Regardless, the real cause of death came as a surprise to everyone.
Cause of Death
Scientists and medical experts who carefully analyzed high-resolution CT scans of the Detmold Childwere able to determine that the infant was suffering fromhypoplastic left heart syndrome. HLHS is a very rare and very dangerous congenital defect which leaves the heart severely underdeveloped. If not treated quickly, the malformation invariably leads to death in early childhood. Treating HLHS today requires three delicate surgical interventions, placing the survival rate at around 70%. It is needless to say there was no available treatmentfor HLHS in 5th millennium BC Peru.
In addition to his malformed heart the Detmold Child also appears to have suffered from tuberculosis or pneumonia, which most likely accelerated his death. Despite his tragic demise, however, the Detmold Child mummy is of outstanding importance. It is not only the first diagnosed case of HLHS in history, but also one of the oldest (if not the oldest) preserved mummy every found. Radiocarbon dating revealed that the Detmold Child lived and died around 4505-4457 BC. This makes him more than 1,000 years older than Ötzi the Iceman and twice as old as the royal mummy of Tutankhamen.
Consulted Works and Sources:
- Gontcharov, I. (2014). The Story of Elongated Skulls And the Denied History of Ancient People: An Interview with Mark Laplume. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Igor_Gontcharov/publication/270395024_The_Story_Of_Elongated_Skulls_And_The_Denied_History_Of_Ancient_People_An_Interview_With_Mark_Laplume/links/54a993020cf257a6360d5768.pdf
- Haas, N. A., Zelle, M, Rosendahl, W., Zink, A., Preuss, R., Laser, K. T., … Domik, G. (2015). Hypoplastic left heart in the 6500-year-old Detmold Child. Retrieved from: http://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736(15)60770-X.pdf
- Holloway, A. (2014). Scientists reveal cause of death of 6,500-year-old Detmold child. Retrieved from: http://www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology/scientists-reveal-cause-death-6500-year-old-detmold-child-001855