Stories tagged natural mummification

Dec
01
2009

Mummy Juanita: This mummy was found on a mountain top in Chile, naturally mummified by the cold, dry conditions.
Mummy Juanita: This mummy was found on a mountain top in Chile, naturally mummified by the cold, dry conditions.Courtesy Wikimedia
Mummification sounds like a lot of work. You have to carefully remove organs, cover and pack the body with salt (natron), dry and wrap each organ, wait 40 days, then do what you can to make the resulting dried-out corpse smell somewhat tolerable…then there’s that whole wrapping process. Whew! There’s got to be an easier way! If only there was a hands-free way to mummify people, like Ron Popeil’s “Set it and forget it” Showtime Rotisserie. Luckily there is! Nature does a wonderful job of mummifying people and animals. Environmental conditions such as extreme cold, salinity (saltiness), acidity, and aridity (dryness) can all result in natural mummification. This is the case with bog bodies. Bog bodies are… well… bodies found in bogs. But not just any bogs, bogs where a combination of acidic water, cold temperatures, and lack of oxygen are enough to preserve the tissue, essentially pickling the body. So this type of mummification occurs in damp/wet conditions, but another way in which nature preserves human and animal tissue is through extreme cold and dry conditions. There are mummies found in Peru and Chile from the Inca period that were preserved this way. Certain young girls from the Inca Empire were sacrificed and placed at the summits of mountains in the Andes. Some archaeologists believe this was part of a ritual honoring Apus, the Inca mountain god. The cold, dry conditions on these summits desiccated the bodies and maintained the hair, blood, and in some cases even the contents of the stomach!

The psalms scroll
The psalms scrollCourtesy wikimedia
Although not really considered “mummies” (because they are not living organisms), objects can be “mummified” or preserved in this manner as well. The case of the Dead Sea Scrolls is an example. The scrolls are made of papyrus as well as animal skins, and were found in caves on the northwest shores of the Dead Sea, near Qumran. The average annual rainfall for this region is about 3 inches (Minnesota averages 26 inches and our driest state, Nevada, averages about 8 inches), and the average summer temperatures range from 90-102°F. These extreme conditions were major factors that contributed to the preservation of the scrolls for 2,000 years! It’s amazing what setting it and forgetting it can do. Not only can it result in the best rotisserie chicken you’ve ever had in your life, but also in preserving history. So the next time you have to make that all too common decision about how to mummify something, just remember there’s the hard way and then there’s nature’s way.