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Guanajuato Mummies

 

 

"The Accidental Mummies of Guanajuato" exhibition is currently touring the United States. For more information about the exhibit and the latest news, click here

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). Cover of Ray Bradbury's book, with photographs by Archie Lieberman...used copies available at AmazonThey 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.

 

     How were they made

The niches in which the bodies were buriedA 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.

 

     How many were made

Many of the mummies are displaying in repose, and many are unclothed.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 i visited. 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 of the mummies are displayed standing up.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 scratch marks.

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 mummies.

 

     Where to see them

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 to Mexico.

The Museo de las momias in Guanajuato

 

     Where to find more information about them
 
Front CoverNot  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 Tombs Review

 

Another book with information about the Guanajuato mummies is Christine Quigley's Modern Mummies, an excellent survey of strange and mysterious mummies around the world. Mummy Tombs Review


Cover of Ray Bradbury's book, with photographs by Archie Lieberman...used copies available at AmazonYou 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 Geographic website.

 

 

   

 

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