1Institute of Evolutionary Medicine, University of Zurich, 2Institute of Forensic Medicine, University of Zurich
April 18, 2020 , Platinum Ballroom
Ancient Egyptian remains have been of interest for anthropological research for decades. Despite a multitude of investigations, the ritual vessels for the internal organs removed during body preparation — liver, lungs, stomach, intestines, of Egyptian mummies are rarely used for palaeopathological or medical investigations. These artifacts, commonly referred to as canopic jars, are the perfect combination of cultural and biological material and present an untapped resource for both Egyptological and medical fields. We applied next-generation sequencing to assess ancient DNA preservation and gas chromatography/high-resolution mass spectrometry to identify any embalming components in a total of 140 jars. Due to the complicated nature of the samples, several ancient DNA extraction and library preparation methods were tested on the tissues, with the single-stranded library preparation method yielding authentic ancient DNA fragments for one jar based on the characteristic ancient DNA damage profile. This is the first-ever recorded evidence of ancient human DNA found in Ancient Egyptian canopic jars. In addition, we also present the complex molecular fingerprint of these vessels — differing from the profile of mummified Egyptian remains. These results are a component of ‘The Canopic Jar Project’ launched by the Institute of Evolutionary Medicine at Zurich, which is laying the foundation for multidisciplinary research procedures by examining a large series of samples from European and American museum collections.