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Questions and Answers about World Mummies


On occasion, visitors to the Mummy Tombs have written with interesting (and sometimes strange) questions about mummies from around the world. Here is a selection of their questions with my answers. If you have a question, you can write to me. If I can, I will post an answer here. 


     Missing Sailor

QUESTION from Brian: After seeing your website, I decided to email you with a request. The 'Mummy Autopsy' series on Discovery Channel featured a mummy of a sailor in the British Navy (circa 1700). This particular sailor was of African descent, and had a particularly hard life. Unfortunately I am in England and I would like to know more about this episode of the series, as I couldn't view it when it was aired in the U.S. Do you have any information on this unfortunate person, as I'm not sure if it will be screened in England. I have a vested interest in this 'unknown sailor' and any help you are able to give me will be greatly appreciated.

ANSWER: I did not see the show myself...but I suspect that this is the British sailor who has been also called a French sailor. Go to these links: Link 1 and Link 2. Both have photos and date to the same time frame.


     Shrunken Head

QUESTION from Jim: I have recently acquired a Jivaro head and wanted to seek proper cleaning and care tips from you. I am hesitant to take any steps prior to consulting with those more knowledgeable. Any assistance, tips or other informational sources would be greatly appreciated.

ANSWER: Sorry, but I have no idea. Your best bet is to contact a museum and ask a curator there.


     The Lyon Quintuplets

QUESTION from I am researching the Lyon quintuplets who were born near Kevil, Kentucky, about 1896. They only lived approximately 2 weeks and were the first quints born in the US (?). Supposedly their mother would not let them be buried for fear someone would try to steal the bodies, and she left them under her bed for several years, finally selling them to a museum for $100. I am trying to find the name of the museum. The story was told on the History Channel, but I did not get the name of the museum and location. I live approximately 5 miles from where the quints were born and died.  

ANSWER: The mummified bodies of the Lyon quintuplets were given to the Army Medical Museum in Washington DC--it has since been renamed the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. The accession number for the infants is 43411. There are two (brief) sources of information: Aufderheide's The Scientific Study of Mummies and Quigley's Modern Mummes. Both books have the same photo; the quality of the photo in Aufderheide's is better; the information in Quigley's is more detailed. Good luck with your research!

UPDATE: A relative of the family, RJ, wrote with further information about the quintuplets:  The children of  Oscar and Elizabeth Campbell Lyon, they were named Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul and were born April 29, 1896. According to RJ, they "were not the first set of quintuplets born in the US as the first set was born in 1875.  However, these were the first set of quintuplets that were born all male and all normal/average birth weight and all lived for several days/weeks. (The first set born in 1875 were all males, but one was stillborn and each only lived a few minutes/hrs. after birth, and their total weight was only about 10 lbs.) 

RJ continues, "Many have always said that the babies would have lived had they not been 'wooled to death'.  Oscar and Elizabeth Lyon lived near the railroad tracks in/near Mayfield, KY.  Hundreds of people upon hearing of the multiple births soon became spectators and  the train would even make  a special stop @ the Lyon household/farm.  So, as a result, the children were handled way too much for newborn infants and no telling what they contracted as a result. If born in today's world with modern standards/technology, each weighing in at 5+ lbs at birth and all healthy, with a lot of TLC, they would probably live to maturity.... The babies were heavily embalmed by an undertaker in/near Paducah KY, causing their mummified state." 


     Fragonard Museum

QUESTION from Mark: I can find little in the way of the Fragonard Museum of Mummies, images, techniques, etc. I'm wondering if you know of any texts. Thank you. 

ANSWER: It's not exactly a mummy museum but an anatomical museum in Paris. You'll find some information about the museum and Fragonard, an 18th Century anatomist, who created about 3,000 human "sculptures" before he was fired for reasons of insanity, in Brier's The Encyclopedia of Mummies. You might also find what you're looking for on the museum's website which does include many photos of some of his famous "works."


     Microbiology of Mummies

QUESTION from Peggy: I am a nursing student (RN) at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in New Richmond, Wisconsin and I am doing a research paper on microbes (microbiology) of ancient mummies. I can find quite a bit of information about the mummies and the discoveries themselves, but I can't seem to find any information (valid or otherwise) about how they determined that certain diseases existed or what particular problems that mummy had. I would like to report about the scientific evidence (i.e. DNA testing) of these mummies and how the authorities came to their conclusions. Do you have any insights? Any direction would be most helpful.

ANSWER: One of the books you want to find is Disease by Joyce Filer. Not much DNA has been found in mummies--the conditions that help mummification seem to destroy DNA, so there's very little here. Some South American mummies (the Incas) have had a few minor studies done. The new book by Arthur Aufderheide, The Scientific Study of Mummies also has some helpful information. 


     Elasticity of Mummies?

QUESTION from Linda: I have been avidly reading your website, as well as the numerous, helpful links you have provided. Thank you very much for this great information! I have been unable to find any discussions, either on the internet or in the books on loan from my local library, about the degree of pliability or stiffness of a mummy.  Before X-Ray technology, the study of mummies required that the body be unwrapped and samples taken of skin, hair, etc. My question is how elastic is a mummy?  Can you move an arm joint or bend/unbend a finger?  Or is the body so stiff that an attempt to change the position of the hand causes it to break? Also, does this pliability relate to the age of the mummy?  Would a newer mummy bend easily, an older one hardly at all, and very old mummies not bend at all?

ANSWER: Thanks for writing, Linda. I'm glad my website was able to help you.  Now for your question: mummies range in elasticity. Mostly, it depends on the manner of mummification more than anything else. For example, Egyptian mummies were dried; therefore, they are quite brittle when found. Bog bodies, on the other hand, were immersed in water for up to a few thousand years. This bath allowed the bodies of these accidental mummies to remain flexible (their bones often decalcified); when they were discovered, their limbs were so pliable that plaster casts of the bodies had to be made to make sure that (after study) they were returned to the original position in which they were found.. I'm glad my website was able to help you.  Now for your question: mummies range in elasticity. Mostly, it depends on the manner of mummification more than anything else. For example, Egyptian mummies were dried; therefore, they are quite brittle when found. Bog bodies, on the other hand, were immersed in water for up to a few thousand years. This bath allowed the bodies of these accidental mummies to remain flexible (their bones often decalcified); when they were discovered, their limbs were so pliable that plaster casts of the bodies had to be made to make sure that (after study) they were returned to the original position in which they were found.


     Lady Dai?

QUESTION from Rebecca: I have enjoyed your website a lot. I have tried to obtain information about the tomb of the Marquess of Tai (Hsin Chui). She is considered the best preserved mummy at the present. She is from the Han period, 2000 years old. Her tomb is considered like King Tut's in China. All my inquiries on the Internet were in vain, and I was a little disappointed when I did not find any information about her on your site. Please let me know if you have any information about her on your site.

ANSWER: You're right, I don't have any information about her on my site--and she is a very interesting mummy. She is sometimes called Lady Dai (so you might try researching this spelling). I don't know of any on-line information, but I can point you in the direction of two books that might be available at your public library: 1. The Encyclopedia of Mummies by Bob Brier (see pp. 102 and 103 for a short article--a good picture is included). 2. The Bogman and the Archaeology of People by Don Brothwell (see pp. 109-110--also a picture). Neither one has much information, though. 


     The Drink of Buddhist Mummies? 

QUESTION from Mike: Several years ago, I caught the tail-end of a documentary about a self-mummification process practiced in Asia among monks. I think they drank some kind of terpene resin (i.e., extract from evergreens) over a period of months or years until they completely became immobilized and died (usually in the lotus position). I've done several searches to find more info on this topic with little luck. Am I imagining this or did this practice really take place, and if so among whom? ANSWER: Mike, I just came across a chapter in a book by Heather Pringle called The Mummy Congress which has information about the self-mummification process used by the Buddhist Monks in Japan. Pringle does mention the drink and the entire process plus gives some references to other sources of information. 


     Mummy Tattoos

QUESTION from Jim: Are there any good books with pictures or examples of tattoos on mummies or ancient people. I have the book The Bogman by Brothwell, and it has one very good example. Are there any books like this you know of? 

ANSWER: I don't know of any books that specialize in photos of tattooed mummies--but you will want to find The Tarim Mummies by Mallory and Mair which shows a number of photos of Caucasian mummies from China. You will also want to search for photos of the Scythian mummies (some of these have been tattooed)--so have the Greenland mummies (a book by the same name is now out of print).


     Catholic Mummies

QUESTION from R: I recently watched a program about mummies. The most interesting bit of information was that the popes of the Catholic Church are mummified as the catholic religion is the only other group to believe in resurrection as the Egyptians did. Being raised a Catholic, this struck me as odd.  I have not been able to find any other information on the subject.  If you could point me in the right direction or provide information it would be greatly appreciated. 

ANSWER: I didn't see the program but I've had a number of enquiries lately about Catholic mummies. You will want to find a copy of the book Modern Mummies by Christine Quigley and Deaths of the Popes by Wendy Reardon. 


     The Old Curiosity Shop

QUESTION from Diane: We saw a program on TV which featured a shop in the USA which had 3 mummies. One was an adult male and  another an adult female but the third was a 600 to 700 year old mummy of a child of about two years of age. Do you have any idea where these mummies are on display? I believe the shop was called The Old Curiosity Shop but cannot recall where exactly in the USA it was located. 

ANSWER: You are talking about The Old Curiosity Shop in Seattle, Washington.


     Princess Fawn Hoof

QUESTION from Heather: I recently visited Short Cave in Park City, Kentucky. This is a privately owned cave but on the tour it was mentioned that an Indian mummy had been found in this cave. Her name was Princess Fawn Hoof. I have no other information. If you have any information or can tell me where to look for information I would greatly appreciate it.

ANSWER: A quick check on the Internet revealed that Fawn Hoof is mentioned on the Mammoth Cave website--Short Cave and Mammoth Cave are part of the same cave system but no details about the mummy are given there. The only written information I can find is in a book entitled Prehistoric Mummies from the Mammoth Cave Area, edited by Angelo I. George (George Publishing Co, 1869 Trevalian Way, Louisville, KY 40205). I purchased this book a few years ago at the Mammoth Cave Gift Shop...but you may be able to find it at a library (or perhaps can still order it from Mr. George himself). 

A brief history according to George's book: she was found in Short Cave in September 1811, was named Fawn Hoof in 1853, was exhibited at two world's fairs (1876 and 1893), was given to the Smithsonian Institution in 1876, and was later dissected and "her bones stored in a box out of public view." I do not know if the Smithsonian still has her bones in its back rooms or if they have been repatriated to a tribe of Native Americans for reburial...but it would be interesting to find out. You will find more details in the George book.


     Soap Mummies

QUESTION from Calvin: My sister told me that North Carolina (where I live) is the home of soap mummies. She told me that the proper equation was an obese person, the soil of the Piedmont area, proper moisture, the person to have been in clothes and either no coffin or perhaps a primitive coffin. She said that with the humidity here and all those other ingredients that the people literally turned into soap and were mummified. Is this true? I've tried to look it up but have not been successful. Thanks again.  

ANSWER: I don't know if North Carolina is the real home of soap mummies--they have been found many places. They are mummies that have been produced by the formation of adipocere. According to Christine Quigley's Modern Mummies, "adipocere is a waxy or greasy decomposition product resulting from chemical changes in soft tissues under conditions of high humidity and high environmental temperature"--like NC in the summer? These mummies have been found in other places too including underwater. According to scientists, fatty acids combine with sodium to form "hard soap" (quite crumbly)--later potassium can be added to the mix and turn the hard soap into "soft soap" (more like toothpaste). Some adipocere mummies look pretty good (though not like artificially-made mummies in Egypt or South America), but most are pretty gross. Quigley's book includes one photo on page 23.


     Little Al

QUESTION from David: My name is David. I am in the 6th grade in Illinois. I cannot find information on the mummy called little Al. Can you help me?

ANSWER: The mummy you are interested in is Little Al (though he was originally called Little Alice--somebody made a big mistake). A naturally-mummified member of the Woodland Indians, he was found in a Kentucky Cave March 8, 1875. According to Bob Brier's book The Encyclopedia of Mummies, "the body was lying on a ledge protruding from a wall of the cave with ashes and charred sticks in front of it. There was a bowl, pipe, arrow points, and several pairs of moccasins." He is supposedly one of the best preserved native American mummies ever found. 


     Non-Status Mummies

QUESTION from D: I'm a student at Western Washington University, I was doing some internet research looking for information on mummies. I'm doing a paper for my Anthropology class my subject for the paper is "Bodies were Mummified for Reasons other than Status," at least something close to those lines. I was wondering if there was any information you could give me. Your web site was very informative.

ANSWER: The mummies you want to research are the Chinchorros--they did not appear to mummify based on status. Many of their mummies were children. On my site you will find information on two books that cover the Chinchorros: the Bernardo Arriaza book Beyond Death and the book Mummies, Disease, and Ancient Cultures--as well as many Chinchorro articles. You will want to read the books, though, since they have the most comprehensive information. A good research library should have them.


     John Torrington's Mummy

QUESTION from L: When I was about seven years old, I was looking through Smithsonian magazine and found a picture of a frozen mummy. I think his name was John Torrington. The picture scared the living daylights out of me! I am now 20 and I am trying to find a picture of it once again, to try and get rid of my terrible fear of that picture. I have looked in many places and can't find one (my Mom burned the Smithsonian a couple of years ago when I accidentally found the picture again! :-) Is there anywhere you can think of to look for the picture? Thanks for your help! 

ANSWER: John Torrington was a member of the ill-fated Franklin expedition which sought a northwest passage.  You can find his photo (and others--all very gruesome) in the book Buried in Ice and others. This is one of the most interesting "detective" cases--solved with the help of three mummies (one of them Torrington's). 


     Scythian Mummy

QUESTION FROM D: I'm looking for a picture of the Ice Mummy sometimes referred to as the Ice Princess, discovered in 1994 in the Altai region of Russia/Siberia. She was distinguishable by her beautiful jewelry but it's her tattoos that I am after. 

ANSWER: You'll find her in the September/October 1994 issue of Archaeology.





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