Friday Five… Mummies and Bog Bodies

Guanajuato Mummies
We recently published a post about the Otzi the Iceman, a 5,300 year-old Italian some modern day relatives probably don’t want to be reunited with. Preserved by the arctic conditions of his homeland, he got us thinking about some of archaeology’s best preserved natural mummies.

Wondering what to dress up as this Halloween? Here are five head turning ideas for your Friday Five collection…

1. Tollund Man

Tollund Man

Denmark, 4th Century BC Bogs and marshlands are waterlogged, oxygen-free environments making them the perfect place to preserve murder victims, human sacrificial offerings and the occasional unwitting dog walker. Their acidic and oxygen limited peat, coupled with low temperatures, makes it hard for rot-causing microorganisms to survive. Thus we have Tollund Man. Originally mistaken for a recent murder victim because of his remarkable state of preservation, his face looks like one with a thousand worries. Not surprising really as he was found naked (except for his hat and belt), arranged in the foetal position, with a noose around his neck…

2. Juanita the Inca Ice Maiden

Juanita the Inca Ice Maiden

Where: Peru 

When: 15th Century AD

From the wet, to the cold… and like Otzi, Juanita the Inca Ice Maiden was preserved due to the extreme temperatures found at altitude. She was only discovered when eruptions at Mount Sabancaya melted a 500-year build-up of snow, which had encased her, freezing her skin, internal organs, hair, clothing, blood, and even the contents of her stomach. Aged between 12 and 14, Juanita was a child sacrifice, killed by a blow to the head in attempt to placate the gods. A grim tale indeed though at the peak of the mountain (above two more children and an adult female mummy), and dressed in all her finery she could at least take cold comfort in the fact that she was the fairest of all the mummies.

3. Ginger the Gebelein Man

Ginger the Gebelein Man

Where: Egypt 

When: c.3500 BC

The Gebelein Man, nicknamed ‘Ginger’ due to his carrot-top locks, (or perhaps a passing resemblance to Ginger Baker!) was buried in Gebelein in Egypt before the time of Egyptian artificial mummification. Instead he was placed, in the foetal position, in a shallow pit in the desert. The direct contact of the scorching sand caused Ginger’s bodily fluids, constituting about 75% of his total body mass, to be absorbed leaving him a little wrinkled, but well-kept all the same. Recent studies in 2012 using digital images and scanning suggest that Ginger may not have had the trustworthiest friends. His cause of death seems to have been a very literal stab in the back.

4. The Saltman

The Saltmen of Iran

Where: Iran 

When: 4th century BC – 4th century AD

Though he may sound like a character in a new government campaign on healthy eating, the Saltman tells a rather more tragic story. He and another five bodies were found at the Chehrabad salt mines west of the city of Zanjan in Iran, most victims of a mining accident killed when the galleries they were working on caved in. Numerous artefacts were found with the Saltman including three iron knives, a silver needle and a leather belt. However what we find most striking is that amazing beard. We hope he’s not partaking in Movember this year…

5. Mummies of Guanajuato

Guanajuato Mummies

Where: Mexico 

When: 1833

This one is a very curious case of natural mummification indeed. A new tax enforced in 1870 in Guanajuato in Mexico meant relatives had to pay for their dead, most buried during a cholera epidemic in 1833, to be interred in the cemetery. For those people who could or would not pay their dead were exhumed and later put on display in a gallery. We’re certainly not saying this was a good thing, though it did lead to a rather startling discovery. About 1 in every 100 bodies in the cemetery had been naturally preserved, perhaps due to certain minerals in the soil, or the warm, dry climate of the area. A permanent display of 111 of these mummies can be seen in Mexico, where visitors have paying to see them since the late 1800s.

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Written by Aisling Serrant

An all round museum educator and enthusiast, Aisling's the Family Festival Coordinator at the Museum of London Docklands.

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