Reading Lincoln Child’s thriller The Third Gate has left me with mummies on my mind (my mind on my mummies and my… uh, never mind), and more specifically how mummification isn’t just limited to Egypt. Corpses have been mummified, deliberately or otherwise, throughout the world – and the practice continues to this day. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
The “Frankenstein” Bog Mummies: Scientists recently uncovered two bodies from beneath an 11th century home that are, in fact, composed of six individual people. The deceased were placed in a bog for preservation purposes, removed, rearranged and reburied beneath the home. They’re not sure why, but I’m pretty sure that if someone doesn’t write a “Frankenstein Bog Mummy” horror novel then we’ll all be poorer for it.
The Chinchorro Mummies: The South American Chinchorro culture ritually prepared their dead by skinning them, removing their flesh and replacing all internal contents with clay and reeds. After that, the skins would be stitched back on and the corpses left them in the Andes mountains where the cold and the wind contributed to the preservation effect. The Chinchorro mummies are the oldest deliberately preserved bodies in the world, dating to sometime between 5,000 and 8,000 BC. A particular point of interest is found in the fact that while other cultures only preserved the high-ranking members of their societies, the Chinchorro preserved all of those who died.
The Tarim Mummies: Discovered in the dry, salty wastes of China’s Urumchi desert, these naturally preserved corpses have puzzled researchers for years. Dating somewhere between two and 5,000 years old, the mummies have many features that seem to indicate their being of Caucasian descent. How did a small group of Caucasian travelers end up in this remote corner of China? We may never know.
Elmer McCurdry: In 1911, train robber Elmer McCurdry was shot and killed after a not so successful run on an Oklahoma locomotive. When no one came to claim the corpse, the local coroner had it preserved with arsenic and charged the curious a nickel for a look at “the bandit who wouldn’t give up.” McCurdry bounced from sideshow to carnival for the next 60 years before ending up as a prop in a Long Beach, CA amusement park’s haunted house. The truth behind this convincing prop was only revealed when its arm was broken, revealing human bone.
Tuten-Alan: Following his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer, British cab driver Alan Billis made arrangements to donate his body to a team of scientists researching the mummification techniques of the Egyptians. Billis, possessed of an admirably droll sense of humor considering the circumstances, dubbed himself “Tuten-Alan” before he died.