Title

Unraveling the Mummy: The Effects of Natural Mummification on the Recovery and Degradation of DNA

Date of Award

5-2021

Degree Type

Honors College Thesis

Academic Program

Forensics BS

Department

Criminal Justice

First Advisor

Marie Danforth, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Kuppareddi Balamaugan, P.h.D

Advisor Department

Anthropology and Sociology; Criminal Justice

Abstract

As demonstrated through casework and research studies (Hawass et al., 2010; Gielda & Rigg, 2017), anthropogenic mummification and modern-day embalming can expedite degradation of DNA. Current research in the field of forensic mummification is sparse and little research has been done on quantifying naturally mummified DNA (Leccia et al., 2018; Shved et al., 2014). This research focuses on observing and quantifying the differences in the recovery and degradation of DNA from specimens that have been naturally mummified. This research on natural, forensic mummies is a blend of experimental archeology and postmortem DNA analysis.

In this study, two control specimens and seven experimental specimens were used. Of the nine specimens, three of the specimens partially mummified, three specimens showed signs of superficial mummification and three specimens naturally decomposed. The specimens exposed to salt of neutral pH and cold temperatures, well known preservations of tissue and DNA, had greater DNA yield and lower rates of postmortem DNA degradation. The specimens exposed to UV radiation, alkaline pHs, and high temperatures showed lower DNA yield and higher levels of DNA degradation. The results of this research could make contributions to the fields of forensic identification and forensic anthropology, specifically, cold cases, victim identification in mass disasters and wars, and identification of genetic abnormalities within large gravesites through DNA analysis.

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