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 New eDNA technology used to quickly assess coral reefs
18.04.2019 | University of Hawaii at Manoa

nachricht New automated biological-sample analysis systems to accelerate disease detection
18.04.2019 | Polytechnique Montréal

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Explosion on Jupiter-sized star 10 times more powerful than ever seen on our sun

A stellar flare 10 times more powerful than anything seen on our sun has burst from an ultracool star almost the same size as Jupiter

  • Coolest and smallest star to produce a superflare found
  • Star is a tenth of the radius of our Sun
  • Researchers led by University of Warwick could only see...

Im Focus: Quantum simulation more stable than expected

A localization phenomenon boosts the accuracy of solving quantum many-body problems with quantum computers which are otherwise challenging for conventional computers. This brings such digital quantum simulation within reach on quantum devices available today.

Quantum computers promise to solve certain computational problems exponentially faster than any classical machine. “A particularly promising application is the...

Im Focus: Largest, fastest array of microscopic 'traffic cops' for optical communications

The technology could revolutionize how information travels through data centers and artificial intelligence networks

Engineers at the University of California, Berkeley have built a new photonic switch that can control the direction of light passing through optical fibers...

Im Focus: A long-distance relationship in femtoseconds

Physicists observe how electron-hole pairs drift apart at ultrafast speed, but still remain strongly bound.

Modern electronics relies on ultrafast charge motion on ever shorter length scales. Physicists from Regensburg and Gothenburg have now succeeded in resolving a...

Im Focus: Researchers 3D print metamaterials with novel optical properties

Engineers create novel optical devices, including a moth eye-inspired omnidirectional microwave antenna

A team of engineers at Tufts University has developed a series of 3D printed metamaterials with unique microwave or optical properties that go beyond what is...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Revered mathematicians and computer scientists converge with 200 young researchers in Heidelberg!

17.04.2019 | Event News

First dust conference in the Central Asian part of the earth’s dust belt

15.04.2019 | Event News

Fraunhofer FHR at the IEEE Radar Conference 2019 in Boston, USA

09.04.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

New automated biological-sample analysis systems to accelerate disease detection

18.04.2019 | Life Sciences

Explosion on Jupiter-sized star 10 times more powerful than ever seen on our sun

18.04.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

New eDNA technology used to quickly assess coral reefs

18.04.2019 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>