Mummy Information (and Sources of Cheap Mummies!)

An Egyptian mummy kept in the Vatican Museums. Shop for Halloween fun at Fright Catalog.
A mummy wrapped in a cloth in a box leaning upright against a wall in Chicago, Illinois. Image of Mummy: Chicago Daily News negatives collection, DN-0003451. Courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society. Best Source of Cheap Mummies and other Halloween Goodies.


A mummy is a corpse whose skin and dried flesh have been preserved by either intentional or accidental exposure to chemicals, extreme cold, very low humidity, or lack of air when bodies are submerged in bogs. The oldest mummified head is Chulina, see, 6000 year old, found in 1936 and AMS dated in Zürich in 2005.




Mummy (sˁḥ)
in hieroglyphs


The English word mummy is derived from medieval Latin mumia, a borrowing of the Persian or Arabic word mūmiyyah (مومية), which means "bitumen". (Because of the blackened skin of unwrapped mummies, bitumen was once thought to be used extensively in ancient Egyptian embalming procedures. Asphalt and tar are forms of bitumen.)

Deliberately embalmed mummies

Also see embalming

The best-known mummies are those that have been deliberately embalmed with the specific purpose of preservation, particularly those in ancient Egypt, where not only humans but also crocodiles and cats were mummified. Ancient Greek historians record that the Persians sometimes mummified their kings and nobility in wax, though this practice has never been documented in Egypt.[1] The body of a Persian princess which surfaced in 2001 in Pakistan turned out to have been forged. In China, preserved corpses have been recovered from submerged cypress coffins packed with medicinal herbs. Probably the best preserved Chinese mummy is Lady Dai from Mawangdui. Researchers were able to perform an autopsy on her body, which showed that she had died of a heart attack ca. 200 BC. Although Egyptian mummies are the most famous, the oldest mummies recorded are the Chinchorro mummies from northern Chile and southern Peru.

Ancient Egypt

For an explanation of the process, see Egyptian burial rituals and protocol
A mummy in the British Museum.
A mummy in the British Museum.
Although mummification existed in other cultures, eternal life was the main focus of all Ancient Egyptians, which meant preserving the body forever. Egyptian culture believed the body was home in the afterlife to a person's Ka, without which it would be condemned to eternal wandering.

The earliest known Egyptian "mummified" individual dates back to approximately 3300 BC, although it is not an internationally renowned mummy, such as Rameses II or Seti I. This virtually unknown mummy is on display in the British Museum and has been given the nickname 'Ginger' because he has red hair. Ginger was buried in the hot desert sand, possibly with stones piled on top to prevent the corpse from being eaten by jackals. The hot, dry conditions desiccated and preserved the body. Ginger was buried with some pottery vessels, which would have held food and drink to sustain him on his journey to the other world. There are no written records of religion from that time, but it likely resembled the later religion to some extent. The desert conditions were a fact of life, thus some natural physical preservation would occur whether or not intentional.

The earliest technique of deliberate mummification, as used ca. 3000 BC, was minimal and not yet mastered. The organs were eventually removed (with the exception of the heart) and stored in canopic jars, allowing the body to be more well-preserved as it rested. Occasionally embalmers would break the bone behind the nose, and break the brain into small pieces in order that it could be pulled out through the nasal passage. The embalmers would then fill the skull with thick plant-based resin or plant resin sawdust.[citation needed]

It also wasn’t until the Middle Kingdom that embalmers used natural salts to remove moisture from the body. The salt-like substance natron dried out and preserved more flesh than bone. Once dried, mummies were ritualistically anointed with oils and perfumes. The 21st Dynasty brought forth its most advanced skills in embalming and the mummification process reached its peak. The bodies' abdomens were opened and all organs, except for the heart, were removed and preserved in Canopic jars. The brain, thought to be useless, was pulled out through the nose with hooks, then discarded. It was also drained through the nose after being liquified with the same hooks.

The emptied body was then covered in natron, to speed up the process of dehydration and prevent decomposition. Often finger and toe protectors were placed over the mummies fingers and toes to prevent breakage. They were wrapped with strips of white linen that protected the body from being damaged. After that, they were wrapped in a sheet of canvas to further protect them. Many sacred charms and amulets were placed in and around the mummy and the wrappings. This was meant to protect the mummy from harm and to give good luck to the Ka of the mummy. Once preserved, the mummies were laid to rest in a sarcophagus inside a tomb, where it was believed that the mummy would rest eternally. In some cases the mummy's mouth would later be opened in a ritual designed to symbolise breathing, giving rise to legends about revivified mummies.[2]

Egyptian mummies as a commodity

In the Middle Ages, "thousands of Egyptian mummies preserved in bitumen were ground up and sold as medicine".[3] The practice developed into a wide-scale business which flourished until the late 16th century. Two centuries ago, mummies were still believed to have medicinal properties against bleeding, and were sold as pharmaceuticals in powdered form (see human mummy confection).[4] Artists also made use of Egyptian mummies during the late 1800s, in the form of paint. The brownish paint was called "Caput Mortum", Latin for "Dead Head", and made from the wrappings of mummies.

In the 19th-century, European aristocrats would occasionally entertain themselves by purchasing mummies, having them unwrapped, and holding observation sessions.[5] These sessions destroyed hundreds of mummies, because the exposure to the air caused them to disintegrate. An urban myth of mummies being used as fuel for locomotives was popularized by Mark Twain,[6] but the truth of the story remains a debate. During the American Civil War, mummy-wrapping linens were said to be manufactured into paper.[6][7] Nicholas Baker concludes that there is evidence to support the use of mummy wrappings for paper, while Joseph Dane doubts any serious attempt was ever made.[8][9]

Scientific study of Egyptian mummies

Mummy in the British Museum
Mummy in the British Museum

Egyptian mummies became much sought-after by museums worldwide in the 19th and early 20th centuries and many exhibit mummies today. Notably fine examples are exhibited at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, at the Ägyptisches Museum in Berlin, and at the British Museum in London. The Egyptian city of Luxor is also home to a specialised Mummification Museum. The mummified remains of what turned out to be Ramesses I ended up in a "Daredevil Museum" near Niagara Falls on the United StatesCanada border; records indicate that it had been sold to a Canadian in 1860 and exhibited alongside displays such as a two-headed calf for nearly 140 years, until a museum in Atlanta, Georgia, which had acquired the mummy along with other artifacts, determined it to be royal and returned it to Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. It is currently on display in the Luxor Museum.

More recently, science has also taken interest in mummies. Dr. Bob Brier, an Egyptologist, has been the first modern scientist to successfully recreate a mummy using the ancient Egyptian method. Mummies have been used in medicine to calibrate CAT scan machines at levels of radiation that would be too dangerous for use on living people. In fact, mummies can be studied without unwrapping them using CAT scan and X-ray machines to form a digital image of what's inside. They have been very useful to biologists and anthropologists, as they have provided a wealth of information about the health and life expectancy of ancient peoples.

Scientists interested in cloning the DNA of mummies have recently reported findings of clonable DNA in an Egyptian mummy dating to circa 400 BC.[10] Although analysis of the hair of Ancient Egyptian mummies from the Late Middle Kingdom has revealed evidence of a stable diet,[11] Ancient Egyptian mummies from circa 3200 BC show signs of severe anaemia and hemolitic disorders.[12]

Natural mummies

A naturally mummified seahorse
A naturally mummified seahorse

Mummies that are formed as a result of naturally-occurring environmental conditions, such as extreme cold (Ötzi the Iceman, Ice Maiden), acid (Tollund Man), saltiness (Salt Man), or desiccating dryness (Tarim mummies), have been found all over the world. More than a thousand Iron Age corpses, so called bog bodies, have been found in bogs in northern Europe, such as the Gallagh Man, the Yde Girl and the Lindow Man.[13] Natural mummification of other animal species can also occur; this is most common in species from shallow saline water environments, especially those with a body structure which is particularly favourable to this process, such as seahorses and starfish.

Natural mummification is fairly rare, requiring specific conditions to occur, but it has produced some of the oldest known mummies. The most famous ancient mummy is Ötzi the Iceman, frozen in a glacier in the Ötztal Alps around 3300 BC and found in 1991. An even older but less well-preserved unnamed mummy was found in Spirit Cave, Nevada in 1940 and carbon-dated to around 7400 BC.

The Pazyryk royal mummies from ca. 450 BC are not as old but they preserve the earliest evidence of tattooing. The best preserved tattoos were images of a donkey, a mountain ram, two highly stylized deer with long antlers and an imaginary carnivore on the right arm. Two monsters resembling griffins decorate the chest of a chieftain, and on his left arm are three partially obliterated images which seem to represent two deer and a mountain goat.

The United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark have all produced a number of bog bodies, mummies of people deposited in sphagnum bogs, apparently as a result of murder or ritual sacrifices. In such cases, the acidity of the water, cold temperature and lack of oxygen combined to tan the body's skin and soft tissues. The skeleton typically disintegrates over time. Such mummies are remarkably well-preserved, with skin and internal organs surviving; it is even possible to determine what their last meal was by examining their stomach contents.

In 1972, eight remarkably preserved mummies were discovered at an abandoned Inuit settlement called Qilakitsoq, in Greenland. The "Greenland Mummies" consisted of a six-month old baby, a four year old boy, and six women of various ages, who died around 500 years ago. Their bodies were naturally mummified by the sub-zero temperatures and dry winds in the cave in which they were found.[14]

In October of 1997, the mummy of Marilu Dennis (June 28, 1922-ca. July, 1996), of Dallas, Texas was found in her home, approximately fifteen months after the former Ms. Dennis' death, according to the November 13, 1997 edition of the Dallas Observer. As reported in the article entitled "Nobody Noticed"[8], it was only after a stranger noticed a strange smell eminating from the mail slot on Marilu's front door that authorities gained entry and retrieved her mummified corpse.

Some of the best-preserved mummies date from the Inca period in Peru some 500 years ago, where children were ritually sacrificed and placed on the summits of mountains in the Andes. Also found in this area are the Chinchorro mummies, which are among the oldest mummified bodies ever found. The cold, dry climate had the effect of desiccating the corpses and preserving them intact.


Main article: Sokushinbutsu

Buddhist monks are said to have been able to prevent their bodies from postmortem corruption. Victor H. Mair in the documentary "Mystery of the Tibetan Mummy" claims that hundreds of mummified bodies of Tibetan monks were destroyed by the Chinese during the Cultural Revolution or were cremated by the Lamaists in order to prevent their desecration. Also according to Mair, the self-mummification of a Tibetan monk, who died ca. 1475 and whose body was retrieved relatively incorrupt in the 1990s, was achieved by the sophisticated practices of meditation, coupled with prolonged starvation and slow self-suffocation using a special belt that connected the neck with his knees in a lotus position. There is no way to determine if these claims are true.

The monks whose bodies remain incorrupt without any traces of deliberate mummification are venerated by some Buddhists who believe they successfully were able to mortify their flesh to death. "Buddhists say that only the most advanced masters can fall into some particular condition before death and purify themselves so that his dead body could not decay."[15] Bodies purported to be those of self-mummified monks are exhibited in several Japanese shrines, and it has been claimed that the monks, prior to their death, stuck to a sparse diet made up of salt, nuts, seeds, roots, pine bark, and urushi tea.[16] Some of them were buried alive in a pine-wood box full of salt, as was the Siberian Buryat lama Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov whose body was retrieved in a perfect state of mummification in 2002.

In the 1830s, Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism, left instructions to be followed upon his death which led to the creation of a sort of modern-day mummy. He asked that his body be displayed to illustrate how the "horror at dissection originates in ignorance"; once so displayed and lectured about, he asked that his body parts be preserved, including his skeleton (minus his skull, for which he had other plans), which were to be dressed in the clothes he usually wore and "seated in a Chair usually occupied by me when living in the attitude in which I am sitting when engaged in thought." His body, outfitted with a wax head created because of problems preparing it as Bentham requested, is on open display in the University College London.

Lenin's body in the Lenin Mausoleum, Moscow
Lenin's body in the Lenin Mausoleum, Moscow

During the early 20th century the Russian movement of Cosmism, as represented by Nikolaj Fedorov, envisioned scientific resurrection of dead people. The idea was so popular that, after Lenin's death, Leonid Krasin and Alexander Bogdanov suggested to cryonically preserve his body and brain in order to revive him in the future.[17] Necessary equipment was purchased abroad, but for a variety of reasons the plan was not realized.[18] Instead his body was embalmed and placed on permanent exhibition in the Lenin Mausoleum in Moscow, where it is displayed to this day. The mausoleum itself was modeled by Aleksey Shchusev on the Pyramid of Djoser and the Tomb of Cyrus.

In the state of Guanajuato, Mexico, mummies were discovered in a cemetery of a city named Guanajuato northwest of Mexico City (near Léon). They are accidental modern mummies and were literally "dug up" between the years 1896 and 1958 when a local law required relatives of the deceased to pay a kind of grave tax. The Guanajuato mummies are on display in the Museo de las momias, high on a hill overlooking the city. Another notable example of natural mummification in modern times is Christian Friedrich von Kahlbutz (1651-1702), whose body is on exhibit in his native Kampehl.

In 1994 265 mummified bodies were found in the crypt of a Dominican church in Vác, Hungary from the 1729-1838 period. The discovery proved to be scientifically important, and by 2006 an exhibition was established in the Museum of Natural History in Budapest.[19] In March 2006, the body of the Greek Orthodox Monk Vissarion Korkoliacos was found intact in his tomb, after fifteen years in grave. The event has led to a dispute between those who believe the preservation to be a miracle and those who claimed the possibility of natural mummification.


A cat being mummified by Summum
A cat being mummified by Summum

In 1975, an esoteric organization by the name of Summum introduced "Modern Mummification", a form of mummification that Summum claims uses modern techniques along with aspects of ancient methods. The service is available for spiritual reasons. Summum considers animals and people to have an essence that continues following the death of the body, and their mummification process is meant to preserve the body as a means to aid the essence as it transitions to a new destination. Summum calls this "transference," and the concept seems to correlate with ancient Egyptian reasons for mummification.

Rather than using a dehydration process that is typical of ancient mummies, Summum uses a chemical process that is supposed to maintain the body's natural look. The process includes leaving the body submerged in a tank of preservation fluid for several months. Summum claims its process preserves the body so well that the DNA will remain intact far into the future, leaving open the possibility for cloning should science perfect the technique on humans.

According to news stories,[20] Summum has mummified numerous pets such as birds, cats, and dogs. People were mummified early on when Summum developed its process and many have made personal, "pre-need" arrangements. Summum has been included in television programs by National Geographic and the British Broadcasting Corporation, and is also discussed in the book The Scientific Study of Mummies by Arthur C. Aufderheide. [21] [22] [23]


Main article: Plastination

Plastination is a technique used in anatomy to conserve bodies or body parts. The water and fat are replaced by certain plastics, yielding specimens that can be touched, do not smell or decay, and even retain most microscopic properties of the original sample.

The technique was invented by Gunther von Hagens when working at the anatomical institute of the University of Heidelberg in 1978. Von Hagens has patented the technique in several countries and is heavily involved in its promotion, especially with his travelling exhibition Body Worlds, exhibiting plastinated human bodies internationally. He also founded and directs the Institute for Plastination in Heidelberg.

Mummies in fiction

Lon Chaney, Jr. as Kharis in the film The Mummy's Ghost (1944)

Mummies are commonly featured in fantasy genres as an undead creature. During the 20th century, horror films and other mass media popularized the notion of a curse associated with mummies. Films representing such a belief include the 1932 film The Mummy starring Boris Karloff as Imhotep; four subsequent 1940's Universal Studios mummy films which featured a mummy named Kharis, who also was the title mummy in a 1959 Hammer version; and a remake of the original film that was released in 1999. The belief in cursed mummies probably stems in part from the supposed curse on the tomb of Tutankhamun.

The 1993 film The Mummy Lives, starring Tony Curtis with a screenplay by Nelson Gidding, was suggested by Edgar Allan Poe's story "Some Words with a Mummy" (1845).

See also


  1. ^ It has, however, been documented that the ancient Greeks created death masks from wax.
  2. ^ Arthur C. Aufderheide. The Scientific Study of Mummies. Cambridge University Press, 2003. ISBN 0521818265. Page 525.
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Quotes from John Sanderson's Travels (1586) in That Obscure Object of Desire: Victorian Commodity Culture and Fictions of the Mummy, Nicholas Daly, NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Autumn, 1994), pp. 24-51. doi:10.2307/1345912
  5. ^ Quotes from the British Press of Jersey (1837) in That Obscure Object of Desire: Victorian Commodity Culture and Fictions of the Mummy, Nicholas Daly, NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Autumn, 1994), pp. 24-51. doi:10.2307/1345912
  6. ^ a b The Straight Dope doubts on mummies supposedly being used as a source of fuel and paper.
  7. ^ Attributed to Augustus Stanwood, of the Stanwood & Tower paper mill at Gardiner, after a suggestion by Isaiah Deck. Available information is presented at Necessity of paper was the 'mummy' of invention, Michelle Pronovost, Capital Weekly, March 17, 2005.
  8. ^ Baker, Nicholson (2001). Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper. New York: Random House. ISBN 0357504443. 
  9. ^ Dane, Joseph A. (1995). "The Curse of the Mummy Paper". Printing History 17: 18-25. 
  10. ^ [2]
  11. ^ [3]
  12. ^ [4]
  13. ^ [5]
  14. ^ Deem, James M. (last updated 2007-03-15). World Mummies: Greenland Mummies. Mummy Tombs. Retrieved on 2007-03-16. See also Hart Hansen, Jens Peder; Jørgen Meldgaard; Jørgen Nordqvist (eds.) (1991). The Greenland Mummies. London: British Museum Publications. ISBN 0714125008. 
  15. ^ [6]
  16. ^ [7]
  17. ^ See the article: А.М. и А.А. Панченко «Осьмое чудо света», in the book Панченко А.М. О русской истории и культуре. St. Petersburg: Azbuka, 2003. Page 433.
  18. ^ Ibidem.
  19. ^
  20. ^ Laytner, Ron (2007). The Mummy Makers. Edit International. Retrieved on 2007-09-16.
  21. ^ Chan, Wah Ho (Cinematographer). (1996). Pet Wraps  [TV].  USA: National Geographic Television.
  22. ^ Frayling, Christopher (Writer/Narrator/Presenter). (1992). The Face of Tutankhamun  [TV-Series].  England/USA: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
  23. ^ Aufderheide, Arthur C. (2003). The Scientific Study of Mummies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 60, p. 411. ISBN 0-521-81826-5. 



  • Aufderheide, Arthur C. (2003). The Scientific Study of Mummies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-81826-5. 
  • Barber, Elizabeth Wayland. 1999. The Mummies of Ürümchi. 1999. London. Pan Books. Also: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-04521-8.
  • Budge, E.A.Wallis. 1925. The Mummy, A Handbook of Egyptian Funerary Archaeology. Dover Publ. Inc., New York, Dover Ed. 1989, (512 pgs.) ISBN 0-486-25928-5.
  • Davis-Kimball, Jeannine, with Behan, Mona. 2002. Warrior Women: An Archaeologist’s Search for History’s Hidden Heroines. Warner Books, New York. First Trade Printing, 2003. ISBN 0-446-67983-6.
  • Mallory, J. P. and Mair, Victor H. 2000. The Tarim Mummies: Ancient China and the Mystery of the Earliest Peoples from the West. Thames & Hudson. London. 2000. ISBN 0-500-05101-1.
  • Pringle, Heather. 2001. Mummy Congress: Science, Obsession, and the Everlasting Dead. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-028669-1.
  • Taylor, John H. 2004. Mummy: the inside story. The British Museum Press. ISBN 0-7141-1962-8.



  • Chan, Wah Ho (Cinematographer). (1996). Pet Wraps  [TV].  USA: National Geographic Television.
  • Frayling, Christopher (Writer/Narrator/Presenter). (1992). The Face of Tutankhamun  [TV-Series].  England/USA: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

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