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Owlscrying

Child mummy holds clues to disease

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July 25

The liver of a child mummy preserved for 500 years still holds samples of the hepatitis B virus.

The mummy, along with others recently unearthed in South Korea, will help scientists understand how the virus evolved to its present state and what to expect in the future.

This is the first time hepatitis B has been spotted in a mummified body.

Until recently, scientists didn't think mummies existed in South Korea. A building boom in the country has led to the relocation of many cemeteries and the discovery of mummies.

Mummification, which prevents the body from decaying naturally, would seem to go against Koreans' ancient tradition of ancestor worship and the belief that upon death the soul rises up and the body returns to its natural components. However, in 1392, a group called the Neo-Confucianists took over, revising former burial practices.

The newer burial practice favored mummification. It involved laying the body on ice for up to 30 days and then placing the body inside a pine coffin buried in a lime soil mixture. Compounds have been found in pine with anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties that likely put the brakes on decay of the bodies.

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