Whether laid to rest in a simple grave or a grand tomb, the human body rarely survives the sweep of time. But in the few places in the world where people deliberately mummified their dead, or the environmental conditions were right—very dry or wet—flesh and bone are extremely well-preserved, such as this mummified baby found in Peru.
(Source: National Geographic)
Ancient Animal Mummies
Wrapped in linen and carefully laid to rest, animal mummies hold intriguing clues to life and death in ancient Egypt. One hundred years ago, the many thousands of mummified animals that turned up at sacred burial sites throughout Egypt were just things to be cleared away to get at the good stuff. Few people studied them, and their importance was generally unrecognized.
In the century since then, archaeology has become less of a trophy hunt and more of a science. Excavators now realize that much of their sites’ wealth lies in the multitude of details about ordinary folks—what they did, what they thought, how they prayed. Animal mummies are a big part of that.
(Source: National Geographic)
The Most Famous Mummies in the World
One of the most important archaeological finds, and certainly one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century, are the hundreds of well-preserved mummies that have been found buried in the sands of the Tarim Basin in the far western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China.
According to scientists, these mummies, three in particular, are among the most important human remains ever found: the much-celebrated Yingpan Man with his gold-foil and white mask and beautiful robes; an infant wrapped in a woolen blanket, wearing a blue and red bonnet of lightly felted wool; and the spectacular woman known as the “Beauty of Xiaohe,” a 3,800 year old mummy whose beauty is startling and is considered to be one of the most well-preserved, exquisite mummies ever discovered.
The reason these mummies are so historically important, and have created such a controversy, is their high degree of preservation which has allowed scientists to see far more detail than would normally be expected in a burial site. These mummies are not Asian-looking, but rather light skinned, round-eyed, with long noses, red or blond haired men, women and children.
A NewAanalysis of the Oldest Known Human Dissection Specimen
What does this head from the thirteenth century tell us about Medieval medicine?
Highgate Cemetery - London’s Most Haunted
Highgate Cemetery is steeped in supernatural lore. Constructed out of need with six others in the early 1800s, with London’s population nearing a million and the death toll rising, there was no more room to bury the dead. This cemetery is one of the most famous in the world, with many notable historic figures, such as Karl Marx, buried there.
The architecture of the cemetery is truly unique. In the heart of the grounds is an eccentric structure called the Egyptian Avenue which consists of sixteen vaults, entered via a great arch. Each vault fits twelve coffins, purchased and used by individual families. This avenue leads to the Circle of Lebanon which was built in the same style consisting of thirty six vaults. A separate gothic-styled catacomb, named the Terrace Catacombs, has an additional fifty five vaults.
But what lures most people to the cemetery are the legends and myths that include ghosts, a vampire and other unexplained phenomena. Spirits coming out of the mausoleums, a glowing woman who roams the paths in between the graves, a man in a top hat, and misty floating beings that hang around the tombs are just some of the the spirits that inhabit the cemetery. Its the account of the “Highgate Vampire” that makes the site legendary.
The first report was in 1970, when a young man reported that he had seen a dark figure resembling a vampire in the cemetery. Since then, hundreds of claims of suspected vampires continued to be reported. Helping the belief along was the fact that dead foxes, with their throats torn open, kept turning up on the grounds. Aside from ghosts and a resident vampire, Highgate Cemetery is a hauntingly beautiful place to spend eternity.
Galileo Galilei…Has Body Parts on Display
At the Museo Galileo in Florence, Italy, they have some odd artifacts on display - three fingers and a tooth from Galileo Galilei’s corpse.
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), the greatest astronomer, physicist and mathematician of his time, was condemned by the Catholic Church during the Roman Inquisition for “vehement suspicion of heresy” for his theory of heliocentrism (that the Earth and not the Sun was moving). In 1633 he was tried and convicted of heresy and spent the last nine years of his life under house arrest.
When Galileo passed away in 1642, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinando II, wished to bury him in the main body of the Basilica of Santa Croce, next to the tomb of his father and erect a mausoleum in his honor. Those plans were halted after Pope Urban VIII protested. He was instead buried in a small room in the basilica.
In 1737, a monument was finally erected in honor of Galilei. But when his body was being moved to be reburied, three fingers and a tooth were stolen from his remains. One finger was quickly recovered while the other missing digits and tooth were found accidentally at an auction hundreds of years later in 2009.
Three fingers and a tooth have been on display at the Galileo Museum in Florence to celebrate the 400 year anniversary of his first observations of the skies. What is unusual is that body parts on display are usually reserved for saints and not scientists.
Capuchin Catacombs - Palermo, Italy
In 1599, Capuchin monks discovered that their catacombs contained a mysterious preservative that helped mummify the dead. As a result, more than 8,000 Sicilians from all walks of life chose to be buried here. The corpses range in date from the late 1500s to 1920 and most were embalmed before their display.
In the 1940s Allied bombs hit the monastery, destroying many of the mummies. The Capuchin Monastery (Convento dei Cappuccini) itself was rebuilt over the remains of the original medieval church in 1623 and was once again restored in the early 20th century.