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Surprising 7: Screaming mummies
A pharaoh afire, sacrificed Inca virgins, Hungarians with tuberculosis, a blinking Sicilian, blonde Chinese, a preserved Soviet leader, and a saint – seven stories sharing one element: they are all about mummies.
Did you know?
According to a theory, Tutankhamen was attacked and killed by a hippopotamus, crushing the ruler’s chest.
One of the sacrificed Inca children’s mummies was struck by lightning.
A nun with truncated finger was found among the mummies of the Dominican church of Vác, Hungary. No one knows why her finger was amputated 24 hours after her death.
A pharaoh afire, sacrificed Inca virgins, Hungarians with tuberculosis, a blinking Sicilian, blonde Chinese, a screaming Egyptian, and a saint – seven stories sharing one element: they are all about mummies.
The blinking girl
Victims of the white plague
The burned body of Tutankhamen
Blonde Chinese with long nose?
The most beautiful saint
Sacrificed Inca children
One of the best-preserved bodies in the world is that of Rosalia Lombardo, a two-year old girl who died of pneumonia in 1920. She is also the most famous among the eight thousand corpses resting in the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, Italy.
Also called Sleeping Beauty, the blonde curly-haired child appears to be peacefully dozing. While the monks entombed in the Catacombs got mummified due to the dry climate, by natural causes as it were, Rosalia’s body was preserved on purpose. Grief-stricken by the tragic and unexpected death of his daughter, the father sought out Alfredo Salafia and asked him to embalm her. The embalmer injected a special solution into the body, which worked perfectly: the formalin killed the bacteria, glycerine prevented the body from drying out, and salicylic acid killed the fungi.
Legend has it that little Rosalia, resting behind the glass cabinet, "blinks" many times a day, and sometimes opens her eyes so wide that their blueness is revealed. Researchers say it is an optical illusion created by the sunlight that penetrates through the side windows at certain times of the day. It should be noted, however, that the girl’s eyes were never fully closed.
In 1994 a worker spotted a crack on the walls of the Dominican church of Vác, North Hungary. When slamming his hammer on it, he heard a hollow sound. He repeated the process once or twice causing the walls to collapse, and suddenly caught sight of dark stone stairs leading downward. Along with the parson, he launched himself into the darkness, discovering a crypt stacked with coffins.
When opening the coffins, they were looking at naturally mummified bodies. Thanks to the special microclimate of the crypt, the clothes and the belongings of the monks remained intact, including their woollen stockings, caps, rosaries and wreaths made of rosemary.
Through X-ray tests, researchers found traces of tuberculosis in the bones of most of the 265 mummies found therein; which is not so surprising, as the disease swept through the continent in the 18–19th centuries.
The century-old finds enable us to develop medicines that could help patients with tuberculosis fight the disease effectively, because only 35% of the mummies in Vác died of it. As no vaccination was available at that time, the remaining 65% of the people must have had genetic resistance to tuberculosis, which can provide for a long-term solution when it comes to patients’ treatment with gene therapy.
On 4 November 1922, one of the diggers of Howard Carter came upon a previously unknown staircase in the Valley of the Kings. Within a few days, they determined that the stairs led to the entrance of a tomb that had sheltered Tutankhamen and his grave goods for 2300 years. As it was a discovery of an intact tomb of a pharaoh, Egyptomania soon started to spread across the world.
Working meticulously, it took three years for the archaeologists to open the sarcophagus of the last ruler of the 18th dynasty. Quite an unusual sight awaited them: the pharaoh’s body seemed to have been burnt. Research revealed that the black liquid used by the embalmers reacted with oxygen and linen eventually setting the young ruler’s corpse ablaze. Tutankhamen’s heart was taken out, whereas his penis was mummified at a 90-degree angle. Some explain that these actions were taken to make him resemble Osiris, the god of the underworld.
According to the latest research on his death, the king who was born of incest had buck teeth and his club foot and girlish hips most possibly prevented him from engaging in chariot racing – facts that disprove previous assumptions.
During excavations from the 1970s to 90s in the Tarim Basin, Northwest China, archaeologists found many blond-haired mummies with long noses dating from 1800 to 100 BC. DNA tests revealed that the mummies have lineages in the whole of Eurasia. This caused a sensation, as many people had previously believed that the western world and Ancient China had developed separately for 3000 years.
Sources from 1000 BC China and 1st century AD Rome supposedly mention a Caucasian ethnic group speaking Indo-European language who lived in the Far Est. The Loulan Beauty, the 3800-year old mummy resting in the Uyghur capital, might be one of them, as her physical attributes make researchers question that she was Chinese.
The discovery resulted in a political debate still unclosed: the Chinese consider the Europid remains to be their own saying that Xinjiang, the Uyghur Autonomous Region, has always been an inalienable part of China, whereas the Uyghur believe the Europid people to be their ancestors.
None of the parties, however, is right. Xinjiang was a melting pot: all of the most significant ethnic groups and cultures of Eurasia passed through. The first people inhabiting the land must have arrived from the west, but they were most certainly not the ancestors of the Uyghur, who came to the region around 842 BC.
While unpacking a disgustingly putrid smelling mummy in the Valley of the Kings in June 1886, Gaston Maspero, the Director General of the Excavations and Antiquities of Egypt, made a very strange discovery. The body was wrapped in a material made of wool that Maspero found especially odd since Egyptians, as Herodotus noted, considered wool clothes as ritually impure. He was also bewildered that the cloth remained white even after 3,000 years. Moreover, the mummy was so tightly wrapped up as if embalmers wanted the limbs to be tied to the body. When the archeologist began to unwrap the mummy’s head he encountered quite a shocking sight: a screaming mummy.
Examinations suggested that the poor Egyptian was probably tortured to death or he was buried alive. Some studies, however, came out with a much more prosaic explanation: if the subject’s jaw is not properly tied up during the mummification process it naturally opens up during the procedure, taking up a very scary screaming expression. The mystery, however, did not end here: since resin was poured into the victim’s throat and the internal organs of the body were intact, mummification was not finished properly. The identity of the mummy has not been cleared yet; some say the man whose face was petrified in a horrifying scream is none other than the rebellious son of Ramesses III.
In September 1909, the tomb of Bernadette, buried in the St. Gildard Convent of Nevers city, was opened in the presence of a postulator, two doctors, a sister, and many experts, as they wanted to beatify the lady who had died 40 years ago, and to whom the Virgin Mary appeared 18 times in Lourdes. All of them were prepared to see a disintegrating skeleton but, after removing the keystone, they were shocked by the sight of the nun’s corpse: Bernadette lay there as if she was only sleeping. Although the rosary she was clutching got rusty, her body remained intact.
Scientists have been unable to offer an explanation despite the fact that her coffin was opened two more times. Many people accused the local bishop of having had the nun embalmed. Experts, however, find no traces of it on her body. In fact, when pathologists examined her in 1928, they found that the tissue of the muscles and the skin, and even the liver, was in perfect condition.
The intact body of the poor girl, who suffered so much in life, is on display in the St. Gildard Convent, having been laid there in a glass case since 1933, covered in wax.
On the rigorous and frosty peaks of the Andes, 21 982 feet (~ 6700 m) high, three Inca children were unearthed by a group of researchers in March 1999. The children of the Llullaillaco volcano, two girls around 10–15 and a boy, must have been sacrificed 500 years ago for the promises of rich harvests and a favourable weather.
As part of the Inca practice of human sacrifice known as capacocha, the Incas marched hundreds of miles to reach the summit of Andes, where they drugged the children using coca leaves and corn beer. The drowsy children then were put into a hole, where they practically froze to death. 500 years have passed and they still appear to be sleeping, except for the boy who was wrapped so tightly that many of his ribs were dislocated. The unlucky child’s death must have been caused by stress: before dying, he had diarrhoea and nausea.
Only beautiful, healthy and physically perfect children, who were virgins, could have been offered to the gods, so parents considered it a great honour when their children were chosen. The Inca believed that the children did not die, but rather joined their ancestors and looked out at the others from the peaks of the mountain.
Text by Adam Hensley. We Love History Magazine / welovehistory.com