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Author Topic: 3rd-Century Man Preserved in Salt  (Read 101 times)
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« on: June 23, 2007, 03:02:47 AM »

3rd-Century Man Preserved in Salt

Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News - June 22, 2007

   During the Roman Empire period, just after the fall of Parthia, a salt mine worker from northwestern Iran lost his life following a catastrophic rock collapse. Approximately 1,800 years later, the man's body � preserved in salt � was discovered in the very spot where he died, according to recent Iranian news service accounts and to a report issued by the Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies.

   Since salt prevents bacterial growth and acts as a drying agent, the unfortunate accident victim became a rare natural mummy. He is the sixth "salt man" to be found at the Chehr Abad mine in Zanjan province.

   Removal of the body from its salty environs could damage it, so archaeologists hope to keep the mummy on site for now.

   Hassan Fazeli Nashli, director of Iran's Archaeology Research Center, explained that he and his colleagues still face "a lot of problems for preserving the other five ones" that have been unearthed over the past 14 years. He added, "They are enough for conducting future archaeological studies."

   The latest discovery was not planned. Heavy rains revealed the mummified body that had been buried in nearly 8 inches of dirt within one corner of a trench in the mine.

   In addition to the six bodies, researchers have also recovered leather shoes, a leather bag, a terra cotta lamp and two steer horns from the mine. The horns probably once held oil the workers might have burnt to generate light.

   Johan Reinhard, a senior research fellow at The Mountain Institute in West Virginia, led a Peru expedition that recovered the "ice maiden," a 15th century Inca mummy of a 12-14 year old girl whose body literally was frozen in time.

   Reinhard told Discovery News that salt, ice, water immersion and bogs all can produce natural mummies. In the case of bogs, the mixture of acidic water, cold temperature and a lack of oxygen within sphagnum may lead to the preservation. Bog bodies have been found at places in Northern Europe, Great Britain and Ireland.
Freezing, however, surpasses all of the other processes, according to Reinhard.

   "Naturally frozen mummies are more valuable than the Hope diamond," he said. "They are rare and they never stop giving information."

   CAT scans, DNA analysis, blood work and more are possible, since the body is comparable to a cryogenically stored individual.

   "The person's DNA is near perfect, as though he or she had just died," Reinhard said.

   Such information can reveal data about ancient diets, the individual's health before death, and what plants existed in the person's environment. Reinhard said a single swath of preserved frozen cloth yielded the remains of 17 plant species.

   For now, the recently discovered salt man remains in his mine tomb, while the ice maiden is still frozen in a temperature-controlled box at the Museum of the Universidad Cat�lica de Santa Mar�a of Arequipa in Peru. Countless future generations, however, may benefit from these bodies that nature preserved.

   Reinhard predicts, "In 10, or perhaps 10,000, years from now, scientists will still be gathering information from them."


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