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Biopreserv Biobank. 2019 Apr;17(2):113-118. doi: 10.1089/bio.2019.0018. Epub 2019 Mar 19.

Mawangdui-Type Ancient Human Cadavers in China and Strategies for Their Long-Term Preservation.

Wang XS1,2, Chen D1,2, Wang H1,2, Liu L3, Huang JF1,2, Duan XM3, Yan XX1,2, Luo XG1,2.

Author information

1
1 Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Central South University Xiangya School of Medicine, Changsha, Hunan, China.
2
2 Center for Preservation of Mawangdui Han Tomb Cadaver, Morphological Science Building, Central South University Xiangya School of Medicine, Changsha, Hunan, China.
3
3 Hunan Museum, Changsha, Hunan, China.

Abstract

Ancient human remains may exist as intact cadavers in various forms, including mummies as well as humid or soft corpses. These valuable human depositories have been increasingly investigated with modern molecular biological approaches, delivering breakthrough discoveries in the field of paleoanthropology. Many ancient remains are also preserved in museums for public education of the history of human civilization. The Mawangdui tomb No. 1 cadaver was unearthed in 1972 in Changsha, China, and is a well-preserved humid-type corpse of a deceased woman who lived in the Western Han Dynasty (206BC-24AD). During the past few decades, a number of other similar cadavers have been discovered in China. The Mawangdui cadaver thus appears to represent an archetype of the humid corpses that are commonly unearthed from buried coffins, but show a great extent of anatomical and histological integrity at the time of excavation. Long-term protection of these cadavers is important with regard to scientific investigation and heritage conservation, while challenges exist to develop effective preservation protocols. In this perspective article, we describe the overall features of the humid cadavers found in China, and discuss the factors that potentially contributed to their preservation before excavation. We also introduce the efforts taken for, and experience learned from, postexcavation preservation of the Mawangdui cadaver during the past four decades. Finally, we propose that research into the mechanism governing the breakdown of macromolecules may provide potential solutions for extended protection of these valuable ancient human remains.

KEYWORDS:

ancient human remains; biological relics; heritage conservation; paleoanthropology

PMID:
30888198
DOI:
10.1089/bio.2019.0018

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