Accidental Mummies of Guanajuato" exhibition
is currently touring the
United States. For more information about the
exhibit and the latest news, click
For a closer look at some of the
mummies, click here to visit the
Guanajuato gallery at the Mummy Tombs.
Background of the accidental mummies
The Guanajuato mummies were discovered in
the cemetery of Guanajuato, a city northwest of Mexico City (near Léon). They are accidental modern mummies
and were literally "dug up" between the years 1865 and 1958 when a local law
required relatives to pay a kind of grave tax. You could pay the tax once (170 pesos) and
be done with it; this option may have appealed to wealthier individuals. But you
were also allowed to pay a yearly fee (50 pesos); this would have appealed to less wealthy
families. However, if the relatives could not pay this yearly tax for three years, the
body (which had, by the way, become accidentally mummified) was dug up from the cemetery
and (if the fee still wasn't paid) placed on display in El museo de las momias. [Of course, what if the person's family had moved from
town--or what if the person was the last person from their family? Well, it didn't matter;
the law was the law!]
Fortunately, in 1958, the law was changed.
Although no new bodies have been exhumed, the museum still displays the original mummies.
According to an article in the
Arizona Republic (November 1, 2005), the mummies began attracting tourists in
the early 1900s, "when cemetery workers began charging people a few pesos
to enter the ossuary building where bones and mummies were stored. But business
really took off after the 1970 movie Santo Versus the Mummies of Guanajuato,
starring masked wrestler Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta."
NOTE: The first mummy was found on
June 9, 1865;
the man's name was Dr. Remigio Leroy. The museum opened in 1894.
A combination of the soil
conditions and a dry climate of the mountainous area caused the bodies
in the local cemetery to dry out naturally before they could decompose.
The bodies were placed in tombs, seven rows high; apparently, those in
the middle row were more likely to have been naturally mummified.
However, only those who failed to pay the grave tax were ever exhumed so
information about mummification will always be incomplete.
No one is certain how many mummified
bodies were removed from
the crypts, but I found 119 mummies on display in Guanajuato's mummy museum when
Possibly, many other natural mummies are lying in the cemetery...but no one will ever find
out, since the law has been changed.
What's special about them
The Guanajuato mummies are some of the strangest ones ever
placed on display. Some are clothed, some aren't. A few are wearing only their socks
and/or shoes. Some are old, others are only infants. One tiny baby mummy is labeled,
"La momia más pequeño del mundo"--the smallest mummy in the world.
The baby and the mother (they died during a caesarean section) are in the
museum, but they will not be found together.
The museum contains a
few local legends as well. For example, one body was said to belong to a
woman who had been buried alive. When the Mummy Road Show hosts researched
the mummy, they concluded that two factors suggested this legend was
correct: the woman's arms were raised over her face and her forehead had
The question is: given the
circumstances of their exhibition, should they still be displayed? Or
would the proper response be to arrange for a dignified and respectful
burial? Or have the mummies become an essential component of the town's
budget? They help the town earn a great deal of tourism dollars, since
almost a million visitors come to Guanajuato each year to look at the
The Guanajuato mummies are on display in
the Museo de las momias high on a hill overlooking the city. The closest
airport is Léon (about 45 minutes away)--or you can take a bus from Mexico City. Train
service from Mexico City is no longer available.
Tour buses arrive regularly.
Although you may not learn much about mummies of the lives they lived, you will probably
learn a great deal about the people who come to visit them--if you ever make a mummy trip
Where to find more information about
much information is available
about the mummy museum in Guanajuato, but I visited it myself and describe it in
How to Make a Mummy
Talk . Your best bet is to arrange your own
trip there and get a look for yourself. Guanajuato is a beautiful city that
deserves many tourists whether the mummies are displayed or not. Mummy
Another book with information about the
mummies is Christine Quigley's Modern Mummies, an excellent survey of strange and
mysterious mummies around the world. Mummy
You might also read The Mummies
of Guanajuato, an out-of-print book (published in 1978) by Ray Bradbury with
photographs by Archie Lieberman. The book contains a short story written by Bradbury
entitled "The Next in Line" (written in 1947) about a couple who visit the Museo
de las momias where the wife has an interesting experience. Filled with haunting
black-and-white photos of the mummies by Archie Lieberman.
Finally, National Geographic's Mummy
Road Show paid a visit to the museum (this show aired on Halloween
2002). You may be able to find additional information on the National