Joseon Funerary Texts Tested Using Ancient DNA Analysis of a Korean Mummy

Chang Seok Oh, Bou Ja Koh, Dong Soo Yoo, Jun Bum Park, So Ri Min, Yi Suk Kim, Sang Sup Lee, Jianye Ge, Seung Bum Seo, Dong Hoon Shin

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In Korea, ancient DNA (aDNA) analysis has been applied to investigations into the genetic affiliations of mummies found in Joseon Dynasty tombs (1392-1910 CE), becoming now indispensable tool for researches studying human remains from archaeological sites. In the course of our recent examinations on a Korean mummy of Joseon Dynasty, we discovered many teeth contained in a pouch. And in fact, the historical literature on the topic of Joseon funerals contain general accounts of pouches in which an individual's lost teeth were collected over the course of a lifetime and, after death, placed in the coffin with the body. To test the veracity of the historical texts, the present study undertook aDNA analyses and compared the results between specifically questioned (Q) samples (teeth) and known (K) samples (brain and bone) from the mummy to ensure that they came from the same individual. Although the Q-K comparison of autosomal short tandem repeat results did not show full concordance due to allelic drop-outs in some loci, our statistical calculation indicated that the teeth in the pouch are highly likely those of the mummy. Additionally, Q-K comparison of mitochondrial DNA sequence results showed 100% matches between samples. There results, in short, could not gainsay the conjecture that the teeth samples originated from the person buried in the tomb; and if so, he must have kept his teeth for a long time after their loss. As the application of aDNA analysis to Korean mummy studies develops, there will be other opportunities to test historical documents, particularly those referring to funerary rites.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1191-1207
Number of pages17
JournalAnatomical Record
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2015


  • Archaeology
  • Joseon dynasty
  • Korean mummy
  • Mitochondrial DNA
  • Short tandem repeats
  • Teeth


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