More on Arthur Aufderheide, the mummy doctor (1922–2013)

Arthur C. Aufderheide (1922–2013) received his undergraduate degree in anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1943 and his PhD from the University of Chicago in 1952. After completing his education, he became a professor at the University of Minnesota in Duluth and spent most of his active life there.

Aufderheide’s major contribution to anthropology was his work on mummies. Referred to as “the mummy doctor,” he believed that studying mummies could provide valuable insights into understanding the spread of diseases, and he used X-rays and CT scans to examine the internal structures of mummies without damaging them. He studied mummies from many different locations and time periods, from ancient Egypt, Peru, Italy, and the Aleutian Islands, and found cases of tuberculosis, leprosy, malaria, leishmaniasis, and parasitic infections. He worked to discover if any of the Medici family in Florence died from malaria.1 He also found that the ancient Romans had ten times more lead in their bones than modern men. “My contribution to the field in general,” he said, “was to make other people aware that … there is medical and anthropological information in mummies.”1 He advocated the use of anthropology in public health activities and worked to promote the integration of anthropology and public health in order to prevent the spread of diseases.

One of Aufderheide’s most important achievements in public health was his work on Chagas disease, a tropical illness caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. Working in Brazil and other Latin American countries, he traced the disease back 9,000 years, helped to identify the insect vectors responsible for transmitting it, and developed strategies for controlling its spread. He was a popular teacher and mentor who received many accolades for his work and inspired many of his students to pursue careers in anthropology and public health.

 

Non-Intrusive Imaging Technology: The skull (foreground) is a 3D printed CT scan of a mummified woman. The original mummy was not disturbed in the imaging process.
The bust (background) shows what the woman might have looked like in life, thanks to 21st century forensic anthropology techniques.
Photo by and modified caption from Ian Abbott on Flickr. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

 

Reference

  1. Hollingsworth, Jana. “With retirement, famous Duluth scientist has new mission.” Duluth News Tribune, December 20, 2008. https://duluthnewstribune.com/news/with-retirement-famous-duluth-scientist-has-new-mission.

 


 

Winter 2023  |  Sections  |  Anthropology