Kansas City’s mummies reveal secrets in CT scan results — and they’re going on tour

Secrets of Kansas City mummies revealed after CT scan

CT scans performed at St.Luke's Hospital reveal secrets about the 650 year old mummies brought to KC from La Paz, Bolivia, in 1921.
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CT scans performed at St.Luke's Hospital reveal secrets about the 650 year old mummies brought to KC from La Paz, Bolivia, in 1921.

The Kansas City mummies are going on the road.

When the traveling exhibit “Mummies of the World” closes down at Union Station at the end of the year it will move on with two specimens more than it had before.

Two mummies owned by the Kansas City Museum will tour for the next few years along with mummies from various parts of the world.

But, for the first time in centuries, these mummies have their own individual stories to tell. That’s because the results are coming in from CT scans performed on them in September at St. Luke’s Hospital.

They were a man and a woman, both believed to be in their 20s, who lived and died about 650 years ago in the Andes highlands near Lake Titicaca in South America. The organic baskets they were placed in identify them as from the Aymara culture, which was subjugated or absorbed by the Inca. The words for “man” and “woman” in the Aymara language are Runa and Warmi. Now, that’s what these mummies, which have been in storage for decades, will be called.

“It’s nice to call them something other than Mummy A and Mummy B,” said Randall Thompson, a cardiologist with St. Luke’s Health Syetem who coordinated an international team that studied the CT scan results.

Modern technology produced 3-D images and holograms that let the team glean some other things about them — even though Warmi’s head is missing.

Ruma was about 5 feet, 1inch tall. He had very poor teeth and a dental abscess, possibly from chewing coca leaves. He also has two holes in his head, and one of them appears to have been made during life because there are some signs of healing. Some primitive cultures used to bore holes in the cranium as a therapy for illness.

Warmi was just 4 feet, 9 inches tall.

“She had very thin bones, some compression fractures and some hip problems,” Thompson said. “She would have been in a good deal of pain.”

There were no burial objects found with the mummies, but Thompson said that’s not unusual for highland peoples.

He and colleagues have scanned or studied scans of about 300 mummies from around the world since 2009. Thompson’s primary interest is in learning about heart disease in ancient people. He said he feels privileged to have been able to study the Kansas City mummies, which came to the museum from a businessman who purchased them in La Paz, Bolivia, in 1921.

“Basket mummies are not very numerous,” Thompson said. “The face on Runa is showing. That’s by design. The descendants of these mummies would bring them out periodically to talk to them and perhaps give ceremonial meals. And when the conquering Spaniards came, they viewed that as being ancestor worship and idolatry. So they destroyed a lot of these mummies, and there are not very many of them around, which makes ours a cultural treasure.”

Thompson will give a public presentation about the CT scan findings at 10 a.m. Dec. 2 at Union Station. The event is free but reservations are required. Watch Union Station’s Facebook page for details.

Thompson said cryptically that he would reveal in that presentation one other detail: a “traveler” in the body of the male mummy that the research team had not seen before.

“There’s a surprise inside of the mummy,” he said. “We’ll reveal that when we have a little more information.”

Matt Campbell: 816-234-4902, @MattCampbellKC