Mummies challenge our basic knowledge of human decay and death. There just seems to be something unnatural about human remains that refuse to rot. These fascinating and terrifying fossils of the past are usually so well-preserved that they can provide us with helpful information about the ways of the past. They also serve as a powerful reminder that we too, will one day face the terrible fate of death.
The Lemon Grove Mummies
In 1980, while a woman in Lemon Grove, California was busy cleaning out her garage, she came across the remains of a young girl and an infant. She immediately contacted the police who started to conduct a murder investigation. The police soon found out that the woman and the infant died hundreds of years ago.
The house was once inhabited by two teens, who had become obsessed with mummies. They discovered that the tribes of Northern Mexico often left their dead in caves, where the cool, dry air would naturally mummify the corpses. The teens spent a month in Chihuahua, exploring the caves. They found two mummies but couldn’t reveal them to archaeologists without admitting that they have committed a crime. They decided to smuggle the mummies back to their home in California. The teens were later drafted into Vietnam and had a friend watch over the box containing the remains for over a decade before they were discovered.
The Mummified Monk
Lama Dashi-Dorzho was a monk of the Tibetan Buddhist school and was born in 1842. In 2015, his mummified remains were discovered in Mongolia’s Songinokhairkhan province. The 90-year old mummy was found in the depths of a monastery. He was seated in a lotus position and wrapped up in calfskin.
In 1927, Dashi-Dorzho, who was 75 at the time,, gathered his students and announced that he was preparing to die. He told his acolytes to look upon his body in 30 years. He entered into the lotus position, and began to chant a prayer for the dead and a few moments later he passed away.
The mummified monk was exhumed 30 years later as requested. His body was still in the same positon and almost completely intact. He was reburied in a secret grave for protection against Stalinist forces. Amgalan Dabayev, age 88, had been at the first exhumation and led researchers to the lama’’ unmarked grave. The preserved body is currently on display in Ivolginsk monastery.
The Gospel Mummy
A group of researchers believe that they have found the oldest known gospel text hidden inside the mask of a mummy. The papyrus scrap contains what could be a section of The Gospel of Mark, dating back to before 90 AD. If the date is correct, the scrap would be decades older than the previous oldest-known gospel. The date was determined using carbon analysis, handwriting investigation and comparison to other dated documents.
The discovery was made utilizing a technique that allows glue to be removed from papyrus, while keeping any writing intact. The technique remains controversial, as it can permanently damage mummy masks. Pharaohs were buried with elaborate masks of gold. However, ordinary folk made due with masks of papyrus, linen, glue, and paint. Papyrus was expensive during the period, and more often than not, it needed to be reused. Researchers have discovered Greek texts, business documents, and even personal correspondence inside mummy masks.
The Mysterious Salt Men of Chehrabad
Hidden deep within a salt mine in Northwestern Iran were six naturally preserved mummies. The Chehrabad Salt Mine’s salt men range in date from 539 BC to 640 AD. Their hair, beards, and even their clothing is nearly perfectly preserved. In some cases, the stomachs, colons and last meals were all intact.
The most recent discovery was made in 2007. Experts have identified this mummy as a Roman-era miner killed by falling rocks or an earthquake. The first five salt men discovered were given to scientists for research. However, the newly discovered mummy will remain underground. There is concern about the Iranian government’s lack of equipment and facilities to help preserve the salt man.
A Stanford folklorist believes the salt men might be connected with satyr legends. Their protruding jaws, snub noses, and hair bear uncanny resemblance to depictions of satyrs in ancient accounts, including St. Jerome’s tale of a satyr head on display in Antioch.
The Siberian Child Mummy
In 2015, archaeologists unearthed a child mummy from the Zeleny Yar necropolis in Northern Siberia. Dated to the 13th century, the remains belong to a boy between six and seven years old. His body was cocooned in birch bark and copper. The permafrost and metal naturally preserved his remains. Buried with a bronze axe, the boy appears to have been of a higher social status than other remains discovered at the site.
Tissue samples were taken of his internal organs, which remain intact. Experts believe they will be able to extract viable genetic material from the boy. They have already started to collect DNA from native Siberian populations in an attempt to discover the boy’s modern relatives. South Korean scientists are working to create a facial recreation. Given the excellent state of preservation, they believe it will be a success.