Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Meat fuelled Midas’ rot

23.10.2001


Midas’ rotten tomb bears the touch of his taste for meat


The gold-loving king’s rich diet may have hastened his decay.

Legend says that lust for gold was the cause of King Midas’ downfall. But his appetite for meat may have destroyed the final monument to his greatness1.

A mound excavated 44 years ago in Turkey is thought to be the resting place of the eighth-century BC ruler of Phrygia. The large tomb, although built of durable cedar wood, is in surprisingly bad shape, says geophysicist Timothy Filley of the Carnegie Institute in Washington DC. He has been studying the vault with a team of archaeologists and plant pathologists.



Nearly all the cedar in the tomb is severely damaged by tiny cavities typical of soft rot, a fungus that thrives in chilly, dank conditions. The worst decomposition is around the tomb of the king and on a small table nearby.

Having tracked the distribution of the nutrient nitrogen through the tomb, the researchers conclude that the king’s protein-rich remains fuelled the fungus’s spread through the building. "Midas’ consumption of meat must have been substantially above, say, the average American’s," Filley says.

Unlike other fungi, soft rot needs large amounts of nitrogen to grow. "Wood has very little nitrogen, so there must have been external sources of nitrogen: probably the king and the remains of his funerary feast," Filley explains. Midas’ mourners are believed to have marked his funeral with a huge barbecue of goat or sheep in his tomb, washed down with wine and beer2.

The study "shows that there is much more information in archaeological sites than we think about", says Noreen Tuross, a biochemist at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC. "Archaeologists tend to regard decay as the evil thing that removes information," she says. "But things do rot; this paper deals with that reality."

Meat clever

Most of the nitrogen in nature is 14N. Animals also contain small amounts of the heavier form, 15N. The higher a creature is up the food-chain, the greater its proportion of 15N.

The percentage of 15N in the coffin was so high, Filley says, that the king must have regularly eaten large amounts of meat. The most decomposed wood from the table also had the highest 15N percentage, suggesting that nitrogen here came from funerary feast meat.

Transport by funghi is not the only possible explanation for the high levels of 15N inside the coffin and on the table, cautions Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia, whose team analysed Midas’ funerary feast in 1999.

If the king’s body had started to rot in its coffin before it was interred, for instance, liquids from the decomposing body could have leached into the wood. "The king probably lay in state while dignitaries from all over the kingdom travelled to attend the funerary feast," he says. "It’s quite likely that the body was already partly decomposed by the time of the funeral."

Filley now plans to take the nitrogen test to the Canadian high Arctic. His team hope to examine remains of the camp of explorer Adolphus Greeley, whose 1882 expedition to reach the North Pole ended in disaster when supply ships failed to reach his group. "Maybe we’ll be able to get a feeling for how they lived, and what kinds of foods they ate," he says.

References
  1. Filley, T., Blanchette, R., Simpson, E. & Fogel, M. Nitrogen cycling by wood decomposing soft-rot fungi in the "King Midas tomb," Gordion, Turkey. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 98, 123 - 321, (2001).

  2. McGovern, P.E.. et al. A funerary feast for King Midas. Nature, 402, 863 - 864, (2001).


ERICA KLARREICH | Nature News Service
Further information:
http://www.nature.com/nsu/011025/011025-6.html
http://www.nature.com/nsu/

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Could this protein protect people against coronary artery disease?
17.11.2017 | University of North Carolina Health Care

nachricht Microbial resident enables beetles to feed on a leafy diet
17.11.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für chemische Ökologie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

Im Focus: Wrinkles give heat a jolt in pillared graphene

Rice University researchers test 3-D carbon nanostructures' thermal transport abilities

Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA detects solar flare pulses at Sun and Earth

17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NIST scientists discover how to switch liver cancer cell growth from 2-D to 3-D structures

17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine

The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change

17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>