The discovery will help in the development of better analysis and conservation methods of frozen mummies.
The Italian Hermann Oberlechner was on a six-hour hike in the Alps of Valle Aurina, in the extreme north of Italy, when he found the remains of a chamois, a member of the goat-antelope species, which appeared to be long dead.
Oberlechner contacted local authorities, who collected the frozen mummy and took it to researchers at Eurac Research’s conservation lab in Bolzano, Italy.
After some analysis, scientists found that the animal died approximately 400 years ago and was buried in the snow for all these years, but due to the melting of the ice, the corpse reappeared.
“Only half of the animal’s body was exposed from the snow. The skin looked like leather, completely hairless; I had never seen anything like it,” Oberlechner said.
“I immediately took a photo and sent it to the park ranger, together we then notified the Department of Cultural Heritage.”
Due to its age and state of preservation, the researchers intend to study it to improve preservation techniques and develop methods to protect the DNA of frozen specimens.
In mummified specimens, genetic material often degrades over time and is found only in minimal amounts. Small changes in the environment or in the corpse itself can degrade DNA. That is why scientists are eager to find better preservation methods.
“Thanks to our previous studies we know the optimal physical and chemical parameters for preservation from a microbiological point of view. In the laboratory we will bring the chamois to those conditions and focus on their effects on DNA,” explained conservation specialist Marco Samadelli.
“With repeated in-depth analysis we will verify what alterations the DNA undergoes when external conditions change.”
Albert Zink, director of the Institute for Mummy Studies at Eurac Research, explained that the team’s goal is to use scientific data to develop a globally valid conservation protocol for corpses found in the ice. “This is the first time an animal mummy has been used in this way,” Zink said.