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Grave Robbers

 

Mummy Dummy 1: Grave Robbers

Originally, the main source of trouble for mummies was plunderers, who robbed graves looking for jewelry and other valuables. Rather than respect the dead, these individuals looked upon mummies as obstacles (in which case, they destroyed them) or as treasure chests (in which case, they would literally rip the mummy apart looking for jewelry). Sometimes grave robbers sold or used mummies for unexpected purposes.

For example, when Mark Twain visited Egypt in the late nineteenth century, he discovered a unique use of mummies. A railroad was being built to cross Egypt, and workers used mummies as fuel for the engine rather than coal. Since they were often coated or filled with bitumen or pitch (a coal-like substance), they probably burned quite well. Twain joked, though, that he heard an engineer curse the mummies of common people who "don't burn worth a cent! Pass out a King!" No one knows if one type burned better than others, however, and Twain's account of mummies used as fuel is the only one in existence. What's more, no one knows how many mummies were destroyed in this way.

Another strange use of mummies was dreamed up by the industrialist Augustus Stanwood, who bought tons of the cloth used to wrap mummies so that he could make paper in Maine. Because there were many mummies available and because each one might be wrapped in twenty pounds of cloth or more, Stanwood thought he had found a perfect way to make a lot of money. The problem, wrote author Christine El Mahdy, was that the cloth was so discolored, Stanwood couldn't make white paper from it. He resorted to making brown wrapping paper. His plan was halted, however, when a cholera epidemic broke out and people mistakenly thought that Stanwood's "mummy paper" was to blame.

Sometimes grave robbers got their just deserts, too. One party of treasure seekers came across a tomb near some pyramids in Egypt around 1800, according to E. A. Wallis Budge. In it, they found a sealed jar that con­tained honey. Greedily, they began to eat the honey by dipping bread into it. Perhaps they thought that centuries-old honey might provide a splendid feast. One of the plunderers noticed a hair on top of the honey after they had eaten some. He tried to pull it out, but was surprised to find that something was attached to it. He pulled the hair firmly and up from the jar came the body of a fully dressed child, who had obviously been preserved in the honey.

 

 

 

 

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