Investigations of mummified remains have grown increasingly sophisticated with advances in dating techniques and forensic science. Mummies provide clues to everyday life through such items as clothing, tools, and tattoos. Stomach contents may reveal data on subsistence and the local ecology. Trace-element analysis of hair can reveal exposure to toxic elements (e.g., mercury and lead). Causes of death and active or inactive disease processes can often be ascertained and sometimes point to murder or ritual sacrifice. Mummies can yield blood and DNA samples providing valuable medical and genetic information.
Egyptian mummies more than 5,000 years old consist of hardly more than bones, skin, and hair, owing their preservation largely to the dry air of Upper Egypt. In humid Lower Egypt practically all mummies have perished. By the time of the New Kingdom (1570-322 B.C.) the art of embalming had reached its height, and it is possible to determine fairly accurately how the great pharaohs appeared in life, e.g., Amenhotep II (in his tomb near Thebes) and Thutmose III, Thutmose IV, Tutankhamen, Seti I, and Ramses II (all in Cairo). Mummification was related to beliefs concerning the afterlife and was undertaken to safeguard the fate of the soul. The Egyptian method of preparing the body varied over time and also with the social status of the deceased. At first only kings were mummified; later their retinue received similar treatment. Eventually, numerous animals that were considered sacred (cats, dogs, cows, etc.) were likewise embalmed. From the Middle Ages until the 18th cent., ground Egyptian mummies were sold in Europe as a panacea.
Outside Egypt, in such widely separated places as the Aleutian Islands, the Canary Islands, China, and the countries now composing what was the Inca civilization, bodies preserved by various artificial means have been found. The venerated mummies of the Inca kings were destroyed by the Spanish. The Chinchoros culture of the N Chilean coast practiced artificial mummification around 5000-3000 B.C., and around 4000 B.C., corpses were deliberately salted at La Paloma, in central Peru. Pre-Columbian burials on the arid coast of Peru and Chile, often wrapped in textiles, tended to become naturally mummified. In the late 1990s a cache of late prehistoric mummies of the Chachapoyas culture was found in a rock shelter in humid NE Peru. In 1974 in the Changsha area of China, an embalmed woman, later identified as a matron of the Han dynasty, was disinterred, along with many artifacts, from an air- and watertight tomb, in a remarkably well-preserved state. In Xinjiang (Chinese Turkistan), other exceptionally well-preserved mummies, dating back as far as 4,000 years and having European features, have posed a mystery to anthropolgists; some believe they may be Tokharians, members of a so-called lost tribe of Indo-Europeans known from later inscriptions.
Natural mummification occurs in favorable soils and climates, particularly cold, arid areas, ice, and peat bogs. Peat bogs have revealed naturally preserved corpses dating from as long ago as 840 B.C. Bodies of Inuit women and children dated at 500 years old have been found frozen in Qilakitsoq, in W Greenland. The frozen bodies of children, ritually sacrificed 500 years ago in Inca ceremonies, were found on Andean summits in 1995 and 1999. A Bronze Age woman of high rank was found frozen in a well-equipped burial chamber in Siberia. The most exceptional frozen specimen is the 5,300-year-old "Ice Man," discovered during an unusual thaw in the Tyrolean Alps in 1991. Another find of a man in a melting glacier was made in NW Canada in 1999. The partially mummified body of the so-called Spirit Cave man, found in Nevada in 1940, was dated in 1996 as over 9,000 years old; Acha man, a mummy from the Atacama Desert, is of a similar age.
See G. E. Smith and W. R. Dawson, Egyptian Mummies (1924, repr. 1988); H. McCracken, God's Frozen Children (1930); R. A. Martain, Mummies (1945); D. Brothwell, The Bog Man and the Archaeology of People (1987); E. W. Barber, The Mummies of Ürümchi (1999); B. Fowler, Iceman (2000).
A mummy is a corpse whose skin and flesh have been preserved by either intentional or incidental exposure to chemicals, extreme cold, very low humidity, or lack of air when bodies are submerged in bogs. Mummies of humans and other animals have been found throughout the world, both as a result of natural preservation through unusual conditions, and as cultural artifacts to preserve the dead.
Although mummification existed in other cultures, eternal life was the main focus of all Ancient Egyptians, which meant preserving the body forever. Egyptian culture believed the body was home in the afterlife to a person's Ka and Ba, without which it would be condemned to eternal wandering.
The earliest known Egyptian "mummified" individual dates back to approximately 3300 BC. This individual, nicknamed 'Ginger' because of the color of his hair, is not internationally renowned despite being older than other famous mummies, such as Rameses II or Seti I. Currently on display in the British Museum, Ginger was discovered buried in hot desert sand. Desert conditions can naturally preserve bodies so it is uncertain whether the mummification was intentional or not. However, since Ginger was buried with some pottery vessels it is likely that the mummification was a result of preservation techniques of those burying him. Stones might have been piled on top to prevent the corpse from being eaten by jackals and other scavengers and the pottery might have held food and drink which was later believed to sustain the deceased during the journey to the other world. While there are no written records of religion from that time, the beliefs of those who buried Ginger could have resembled the later religion to some extent.
The earliest technique of deliberate mummification, as used ca. 3000 BC, was minimal and not yet mastered. The organs were eventually removed (with the exception of the heart) and stored in canopic jars, allowing the body to be more well-preserved as it rested. Occasionally embalmers would break the bone behind the nose, and break the brain into small pieces in order that it could be pulled out through the nasal passage. The embalmers would then fill the skull with thick plant-based resin or plant resin sawdust.
It also wasn’t until the Middle Kingdom that embalmers used natural salts to remove moisture from the body. The salt-like substance natron dried out and preserved more flesh than bone. Once dried, mummies were ritualistically anointed with oils and perfumes. The 21st Dynasty brought forth its most advanced skills in embalming and the mummification process reached its peak. The bodies' abdomens were opened and all organs, except for the heart, were removed and preserved in Canopic jars. The brain, thought to be useless, was pulled out through the nose with hooks, then discarded. It was also drained through the nose after being liquefied with the same hooks.
The emptied body was then covered in natron, to speed up the process of dehydration and prevent decomposition. Natron dries the body up faster than desert sand, preserving the body better. Often finger and toe protectors were placed over the mummy's fingers and toes to prevent breakage. They were wrapped with strips of white linen that protected the body from being damaged. After that, they were wrapped in a sheet of canvas to further protect them. Many sacred charms and amulets were placed in and around the mummy and the wrappings. This was meant to protect the mummy from harm and to give good luck to the Ka of the mummy. Once preserved, the mummies were laid to rest in a sarcophagus inside a tomb, where it was believed that the mummy would rest eternally. In some cases the mummy's mouth would later be opened in a ritual designed to symbolize breathing, giving rise to legends about revivified mummies.
Egyptian mummies became much sought-after by museums worldwide in the 19th and early 20th centuries and many exhibit mummies today. Notably fine examples are exhibited at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, at the Ägyptisches Museum in Berlin, and at the British Museum in London. The Egyptian city of Luxor is also home to a specialized Mummification Museum. The mummified remains of what turned out to be Ramesses I ended up in a "Daredevil Museum" near Niagara Falls on the United States–Canada border; records indicate that it had been sold to a Canadian in 1860 and exhibited alongside displays such as a two-headed calf for nearly 140 years, until a museum in Atlanta, Georgia, which had acquired the mummy along with other artifacts, determined it to be royal and returned it to Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. It is currently on display in the Luxor Museum.
More recently, science has also taken interest in mummies. Dr. Bob Brier, an Egyptologist, has been the first modern scientist attempted to recreate a mummy using the ancient Egyptian method. Mummies have been used in medicine to calibrate CAT scan machines at levels of radiation that would be too dangerous for use on living people. In fact, mummies can be studied without unwrapping them using CAT scan and X-ray machines to form a digital image of what's inside. They have been very useful to biologists and anthropologists, as they have provided a wealth of information about the health and life expectancy of ancient people.
Scientists interested in cloning the DNA of mummies have recently reported findings of clonable DNA in an Egyptian mummy dating to circa 400 BC. Although analysis of the hair of Ancient Egyptian mummies from the Late Middle Kingdom has revealed evidence of a stable diet, Ancient Egyptian mummies from circa 3200 BC show signs of severe anaemia and hemolytic disorders.
In the 1830s, Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism, left instructions to be followed upon his death which led to the creation of a sort of modern-day mummy. He asked that his body be displayed to illustrate how the "horror at dissection originates in ignorance"; once so displayed and lectured about, he asked that his body parts be preserved, including his skeleton (minus his skull, for which he had other plans), which were to be dressed in the clothes he usually wore and "seated in a Chair usually occupied by me when living in the attitude in which I am sitting when engaged in thought." His body, outfitted with a wax head created because of problems preparing it as Bentham requested, is on open display in the University College London.
During the early 20th century the Russian movement of Cosmism, as represented by Nikolaj Fedorov, envisioned scientific resurrection of dead people. The idea was so popular that, after Lenin's death, Leonid Krasin and Alexander Bogdanov suggested to cryonically preserve his body and brain in order to revive him in the future. Necessary equipment was purchased abroad, but for a variety of reasons the plan was not realized. Instead his body was embalmed and placed on permanent exhibition in the Lenin Mausoleum in Moscow, where it is displayed to this day. The mausoleum itself was modeled by Aleksey Shchusev on the Pyramid of Djoser and the Tomb of Cyrus.
In the state of Guanajuato, Mexico, mummies were discovered in a cemetery of a city named Guanajuato northwest of Mexico City (near León). They are accidental modern mummies and were literally "dug up" between the years 1896 and 1958 when a local law required relatives of the deceased to pay a kind of grave tax. The Guanajuato mummies are on display in the Museo de las momias, high on a hill overlooking the city. Another notable example of natural mummification in modern times is Christian Friedrich von Kahlbutz (1651-1702), whose body is on exhibit in his native Kampehl.
In 1994 265 mummified bodies were found in the crypt of a Dominican church in Vác, Hungary from the 1729-1838 period. The discovery proved to be scientifically important, and by 2006 an exhibition was established in the Museum of Natural History in Budapest. In March 2006, the body of the Greek Orthodox Monk Vissarion Korkoliacos was found intact in his tomb, after fifteen years in grave. The event has led to a dispute between those who believe the preservation to be a miracle and those who claimed the possibility of natural mummification.
In 1975, an esoteric organization by the name of Summum introduced "Modern Mummification", a form of mummification that Summum claims uses modern techniques along with aspects of ancient methods. The service is available for spiritual reasons. Summum considers animals and people to have an essence that continues following the death of the body, and their mummification process is meant to preserve the body as a means to aid the essence as it transitions to a new destination. Summum calls this "transference," and the concept seems to correlate with ancient Egyptian reasons for mummification.
Rather than using a dehydration process that is typical of ancient mummies, Summum uses a chemical process that is supposed to maintain the body's natural look. The process includes leaving the body submerged in a tank of preservation fluid for several months. Summum claims its process preserves the body so well that the DNA will remain intact far into the future, leaving open the possibility for cloning should science perfect the technique on humans.
According to news stories, Summum has mummified numerous pets such as birds, cats, and dogs. People were mummified early on when Summum developed its process and many have made personal, "pre-need" arrangements. Summum has been included in television programs by National Geographic and the British Broadcasting Corporation, and is also discussed in the book The Scientific Study of Mummies by Arthur C. Aufderheide.
The technique was invented by Gunther von Hagens when working at the anatomical institute of the University of Heidelberg in 1978. Von Hagens has patented the technique in several countries and is heavily involved in its promotion, especially with his travelling exhibition Body Worlds, exhibiting plastinated human bodies internationally. He also founded and directs the Institute for Plastination in Heidelberg.
Mummies are commonly featured in romance genres as a undead creatures. During the 20th century, horror films and other mass media popularized the notion of a curse associated with mummies. Films representing such a belief include the 1932 movie "The Mummy" starring Boris Karloff as Imhotep; four subsequent 1940's Universal Studios mummy films which featured a mummy named Kharis, who also was the title mummy in The Mummy (1959 movie)|a 1959 Hammer remake of "The Mummy's Hand" and "The Mummy's Tomb"; and a remake of the original film that was released in 1999. The belief in cursed mummies probably stems in part from the supposed curse on the tomb of Tutankhamun. In 1979, the American Broadcasting Company aired a TV holiday show, "The Halloween That Almost Wasn't", in which a mummy from Egypt (Robert Fitch) arrived at Count Dracula's castle without speaking.
The 1922 discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb by archaeologist Howard Carter brought mummies into the mainstream. Slapstick comedy trio the Three Stooges humorously exploited the discovery in the short film "We Want Our Mummy", in which they explored the tomb of the midget King Rutentuten (and his Queen, Hotsy Totsy). A decade later, they played crooked used chariot salesmen in "Mummy's Dummies", in which they ultimately assisted a different King Rootentootin (Vernon Dent) with a toothache.
Fictional mummies have also been prominently featured in comics and animation, such as Hakushin in the anime series "InuYasha", Anal Ho Tep from Eric Millikin's "Fetus-X", N'Kantu, the Living Mummy from Marvel Comics, and Mumm-Ra from the animated TV series "ThunderCats". A humorous cartoon mummy was also used as the mascot for General Mills' monster-themed breakfast cereal Yummy Mummy.