The most famous mummies ever found

6 Aug 2022


In 1871 Mohammed Abder Rassoul accidentally discovered near the temple of Deir-el-Bahari at the foot of the cliff of Thebes, an opening in a rock face and near the mouth of a well. At the bottom, about eleven meters deep, he finds a large pile of sarcophagi. For years, with the complicity of his brothers, he takes away various precious objects that he sells to fences.

In 1871, the then director of excavations in Egypt, Gaston Maspero, suspicious of having heard of a traffic in finds, opens investigations that lead him to Mohammed; arrested, he confesses and on July 5, 1881 he leads the authorities to the place of discovery. As soon as he descend into the well the spectacle that presents itself to the eyes of the officials has the incredible: dozens of sarcophagi of the most famous pharaohs of the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasty of the queens and high court dignitaries of the time, lie massed (among the most famous are those of Thutmose I, II, III, Amenofi I, Ramesses I, II, III and those of the queens Nefertari, Hatshepsut, Aahotep).
The mummies had been removed from their original tombs and hidden in Deir-el-Bahari, it was probably decided to avoid the continuous desecration that the inhabitants of Thebes, between 1500 and 1080 BC, carried out especially at the burials of the pharaohs.


On November 4, 1922, after several years of research, the archaeologist Howard Carter (his excavation campaign had been financed by the wealthy Lord Carnarvon) discovers a stone staircase in the Valley of the Kings and immediately senses that it certainly leads to a tomb. On November 26, 1922 the team enter the antechamber and on February 17, 1923 they arrive to the burial chamber where the dream of every archaeologist finally comes true. Carter found an intact pharaoh's tomb! it is the greatest archaeological discovery of the century.
The times to recover and catalog the enormous quantity of objects found will be very long and only on 28 October 1925 will the last of the 3 sarcophagi that protect the mummy of the young pharaoh Tutankhamun be opened.

The third sarcophagus was made entirely of solid gold and the face of the Pharaoh was covered by the famous all-gold mask.

Tutankhamun belonged to the eighteenth dynasty and reigned between 1347-1339 dying very young in mysterious circumstances.

The Valley of the Golden Mummies

In the Bahariyya oasis (Egypt), about 500 km from Cairo, "The Valley of the Golden Mummies" was discovered. The discovery was accidental; a donkey sinks with one paw into a hole in the desert, his master seeing the opening informs the authorities. The famous archaeologist Zahi Hawass goes to the place, who after a few days of excavations unearthed a first tomb with 29 mummies, many of which are covered with gold.
A hundred of them have been extracted to date, but it is estimated that the necropolis (from the Roman era) that contains at least 10.000 mummies, spread over an area of approximately 6 square kilometers.

The man from Tollund

In 1950 excavations in the Tollund bog near Silkeborg (Denmark) unearthed a new body. In the past other bodies had been found, but once extracted from the peat they were immediately putrefying, for example in 1938 a body covered with a sheepskin and from the first tests it was evident that he had been strangled or hanged.

The block of peat containing the body discovered in 1950 was extracted and sent to the laboratory of the National Museum for analysis.
It was a man, the skin was intact, the soft parts were almost intact. The face looked like that of a sleeping man, the short hair coming out of a leather cap and a 2 or 3 day beard.

Despite the expression of serenity he had certainly been killed: a formed rope proves it from two intertwined strips of leather, tightly tied with a noose around the neck of the deceased and a deep groove on the throat that suggests that he was hanged.

Due to the difficulties and the cost of the process it was decided to keep only the head.

It took more than a year for the various treatments and in the end the find was exhibited at the Museum of Silkeborg where it still stands today. This head from two thousand years ago is the best preserved of all antiquity.

Siberia valley of Pazyryk

In Siberia the frozen tombs of the Pazyryk valley in Altai are famous. Discovered by the archaeologist Sergej Ivanovic RudenKo, who carried out the excavations between 1929 and 1949; the tombs date back to the 4th century BC and belong to a community of knights, similar to the Scythians of the Black Sea. The conservation of the tombs is due to a series of factors: the way in which they were built, and the very cold climate that prevented the spring sun from thawing the ground below and the very cold air of the harsh winter that infiltrated the interstices between one boulder and another, it transformed the underground cells, with log walls and ceilings, into natural refrigerators.

The skin and hair of teh bodies in a surprisingly natural state. One of the bodies was that of a heavily built tribal chief in his sixties and the body was completely covered in tattoos. The head, like the other corpses of the Altai, had been embalmed with great care.
The process consisted of removing the brain, bowels and part of the musculature (the latter perhaps used for cannibalistic rituals).

The corpses were then filled with grass, moss and aromatic herbs; the incisions were stitched up with hair or tendons. The men's heads were partially or completely shaved and some had fake beards. The women were buried with their braids intonse. A curiosity that archaeologists have not been able to give an explanation: some men were found with their right hand sewn on the pubic area.

China Han tomb no.1 of Tchancha

In 1972 Chinese archaeologists in Hounan province discovered a tomb that was over 2.000 years old. The sarcophagus was huge and consisted of six chests one inside the other with a single space between the first and second chests. Various objects were found and a kind of kimono made of silk which, although measuring 128 cm in length by 190 cm from one end of the sleeves to the other, weighed only 49 grams. Everything was perfectly preserved and the actual inner sarcophagus contained the body of a five-foot tall woman, about fifty years old, wrapped in twenty layers of different clothes.
From the richness of the grave goods and for other reasons, scientists are almost certain that she is the bride of Prince Litsang, noble of Tai, who lived between 193 and 141 BC.

The mummy had subcutaneous connective tissue still elastic, intact fibers and femoral arteries were almost the same color as a fresh corpse.

Chile various finds

In 1954 near Santiago on Mount El Plomo (5.400 meters) a mummy was found, naturally preserved by freezing, of a child of 8-9 years. Dressed in an Andean tunic and various ornaments, from the studies carried out it was deduced that it was a human sacrifice.
In 1964 at 6.300 meters above sea level in the locality of Cerro El Toro another important mummy was found. It was the corpse of a young man in his twenties whose body had undergone a process of natural mummmification (for freezing and dry climate due to height). The skin was hardened, but overall the whole body was well preserved.
The young man wore a calzone in the form of a "slip". The height is calculated between 163 and 165 centimeters and the current weight is 18 kilos.

According to recent studies, also this one was a human sacrifice made by the Incas.

Peru the High Priestess

In San Isidro, a few kilometers from Lima, a perfectly preserved mummy of a woman with a ponytail over two meters long was discovered in 1958. With difficulty they tore the hair from her skin for analysis. The woman aged about 25 was baptized "High Priestess".
Her body was encased in a huge white canvas bundle, surmounted by a red canvas mask with a wooden nose.

Beyond this mummy, hundreds of mummified bodies have been found in Peru,
Peru, mummy from the Inca period
Peru, mummy from the Inca period
many of which are natural mummies that have been preserved thanks to the dry climate and porous sand.

Greenland Inuit mummies

In 1972, two brothers were hunting near Nuussuaq on the Baffin Sea (Greenland), when they noticed oddly arranged rocks on the ground. Picking up a few, they found several perfectly preserved human bodies. Taking some photos and covering the tomb, they warned the authorities but no one was interested in the discovery. In 1977 the new director of the Nuuk museum, seeing the photos, understood the importance of the discovery and had the bodies recovered. There were eight mummies and the Carbon 14 examination set the date of death around 1450. Six bodies were of women between twenty and fifty and two of children, one six months and the other four years.
From various tests carried out on the bodies it was discovered that the faces of the elderly women were tattooed, that one woman was suffering from a tumor, the other had lungs full of soot produced by the oil of the lamps and the 4-year-old boy was suffering from down syndrome.

Many the objects have been found, which have allowed us to better understand the ancient people of the Inuit, who were hunters, fishermen and gatherers of bird's eggs.

Mummy of Martres

In 1756 in Martres in France, two peasants digging in a meadow found a stone slab covering a sarcophagus. Inside was the mummy of a child, very old and well preserved.

The corpse examined by some doctors had been prepared like that of an Egyptian: with herbs, drugs, bandages and shrouds. From the apparent age of 10-12 years the body was perfect, the eyes were bright and lively.
The surgeon in incising the abdomen was incredulous to see that the scalpel sank like a fresh corpse. The inhabitants of Martres, impressed by the vision of that perfectly preserved body, decided that it must be a saint, they transported it to their church and almost tore it to pieces in order to obtain relics.

The worried bishop had the little body buried but the judiciary had the body exhumed and placed it in a glass coffin to expose it in the local hospital.

Paris claimed the body which in 1790 was transported to the Natural History Museum.


On 19 September 1991 in the Similaun glacier, in the Ötztal Alps (Val Senales), at 3.210 meters above sea level, the body of a man was found by two hikers that the progressive retreat of the glacier had brought to the surface.

The body after being freed from the ice is brought to Innsbruck in Austria and after various examinations it will prove to be among the oldest bodies of a human being ever found (5000 years!).
It is first called "the ice man" and later renamed with the nickname of "Otzi".

Along with the body, the clothing and various objects were found almost intact (a bow, a quiver, arrows, a copper ax, a knife and a flint dagger).

The body has various tattoos on the skin.
Death suddenly seized him (he must have been about 40 years old), a fall or a storm.

After various disputes Austria agrees to give Otzi to Italy (the examinations of the place of the discovery have ascertained that the body was lying in Italian territory).

In January 20, 1998 the ice man is transferred to the archaeological museum of Bolzano and is placed in a special air-conditioned room.

The girl of the Appian Way

In April 1485 some workers were working in search of a marble quarry along the Via Appia. Suddenly they sank into a tiled vault and underneath they found a marble sarcophagus. Opening it, they found a body lying face down, covered with a substance two fingers high, greasy and perfumed.

Removed the odorous crust starting from the head, a face appeared to them so clear that it looked as if the girl had been buried that day.
The whole body of the girl was perfect and only the chest, belly and womb were compressed on one side, and after the removal of the aromatic crust they decomposed.

Subsequent examinations revealed that it was a Roman sarcophagus and was exhibited two days later at the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome. In just one day over twenty thousand people visited the mummy and Pope Innocent VIII, armed by so much clamor, had the decaying body transported to a secret and buried place in the middle of the night.
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