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.
The Oldest Mummies in the World
Trekking through Chile’s Atacama Desert 7000 years ago, hunter-gatherers known as the Chinchorro walked in the land of the dead. Thousands of shallowly buried human bodies littered the earth. According to new research, the scene inspired the Chinchorro to begin mummifying their dead, a practice they adopted roughly 3000 years before the Egyptians embraced it.
Archaeologists have long studied how the Chinchorro made their mummies, the first in history, says ecologist Pablo Marquet of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile in Santiago. After removing the skin to be dried, the hunter-gatherers scooped out the organs and stuffed the body with clay, dried plants, and sticks. Once they reattached the skin, embalmers painted the mummy shiny black or red and put a black wig on its head. Covering the corpses’ faces were clay masks, some molded into an open-mouthed expression that later inspired Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream.
Few scientists have tackled the mystery of why the Chinchorro started to mummify their dead in the first place. Complicated cultural practices such as mummification, Marquet says, tend to arise only in large, sedentary populations. The more people you have in one place, the more opportunity for innovation, development, and the spread of new ideas. The Chinchorro don’t fit that mold. As nomadic hunter-gatherers, they formed groups of about only 100 people.
Sokushinbutsu - The Bizarre Practice of Self-Mummification
Scattered throughout Northern Japan around the Yamagata Prefecture are two dozen mummified Japanese monks known as Sokushinbutsu, who caused their own deaths by way of self-mummification. A successful mummification took upwards of ten years. It is believed that many hundreds of monks tried, but only about 20 such mummifications have been discovered to date.
The elaborate process started with three years of eating a special diet consisting only of nuts and seeds, while taking part in a regimen of rigorous physical activity that stripped them of their body fat. They then ate only bark and roots for another three years and began drinking a poisonous tea made from the sap of the Urushi tree, normally used to lacquer bowls.
This caused vomiting and a rapid loss of bodily fluids, and most importantly, it made the body too poisonous to be eaten by maggots. Finally, a self-mummifying monk would lock himself in a stone tomb barely larger than his body, where he would not move from the lotus position. His only connection to the outside world was an air tube and a bell. Each day he rang a bell to let those outside know that he was still alive.
When the bell stopped ringing, the tube was removed and the tomb sealed. After the tomb was sealed, the other monks in the temple would wait another three years, and open the tomb to see if the mummification was successful. If the monk had been successfully mummified, they were immediately seen as a Buddha and put in the temple for viewing. Usually, though, there was just a decomposed body.
Muzawaka Tombs in Egypt
The ancient tombs of Petosiris and Sadosiris, which were discovered in 1972, used to be the star attraction of the Muzawaka necropolis. But too much fresh air and humidity from the breath of the visitors have threatened the state of the colorful frescoes inside the mausolea, and the tombs have been closed for several years.
In every other country, these mummies would probably be proudly displayed at a museum, but given Egypt’s over-abundance of mummies, the Muzawaka corpses have been categorized as being of no significant value to archaeologists, and have been left in place.
The mummies date from the Roman period in Egypt and are mostly clustered in family tombs. They belonged to non-wealthy residents, hence the undecorated interior of their tomb chambers.
It is one of Egypt’s most macabre “tourist sights,” and one of the very few places in the world, where non-scientists have the possibility of getting so close to mummies in their original resting places, they can even touch them.
The Bog Body of “Grauballe Man”
The “Grauballe Man”, pictured above, was found in 1952 by a Dane digging for peat in Northern Europe. His throat was cut in 290 B.C., but his body was well enough preserved to yield fingerprints. Why was he killed? Maybe ritual, maybe execution for a crime, maybe human sacrifice. Here’s one odd clue: judging from his nutrition and manicure, the body appears to have been from the upper class.
The acidity of the bog water, the cold temperature, and the lack of oxygen have effectively prevented these corpses from decomposing. More than 700 bodies have been recovered, some as old as 10,000 years and some still appearing fresh enough to be mistaken for recent murder victims.