We could easily write a book on Egyptian mummies. But to keep things interesting, we're writing about the lesser known guys out there.
We are all familiar with the concept of mummies. But if you associate mummies only with ancient Egyptians, you’ve got a lot to learn. Corpse preservation has been practiced in all corners of the world and by all sorts of cultures, and–sorry Tut–even those whose bodies were accidentally preserved through natural means are considered mummies.
Famous Mummies: The Tollund Man
This natural mummy was found 65 years ago in a Danish peat bog. These kinds of findings, referred to as bog bodies, aren’t that unusual. Bog conditions preserve the remains quite well, but the Tollund Man still stands out. In fact, he was so well-preserved that authorities initially mistook him for a recent murder victim. It wasn’t until later that it was determined that they were off by about 2,300 years.
It would appear that the Tollund Man was, indeed, killed, but rather as a human sacrifice than through traditional execution or violence. The head is really the most fascinating aspect of the mummy. There simply is no other mummy which is as old and as well-preserved as him. Tollund’s mummified face has retained all of the facial features it had on the day of his death, including a little hair stubble on his chin and upper lip.
If you want to see the Tollund Man in person, you’ll have to travel to the Silkeborg Museum in Denmark. You might be a little disappointed to find out that the body is actually an artificial copy because in the 1950s they lacked the technology to adequately preserve the whole thing. Even so, the head (which really is the centerpiece) is still the real deal.
Ötzi the Iceman
Ötzi is probably the most famous mummy in the world. And no, he isn’t Egyptian. Nor is he wrapped in linen, which is another common misconception many have of a typical mummy. What he is, though, is a roughly 5,000-year old man who was killed 53 centuries ago and left in the ice. He was soon encased in a glacier where he spent the next few millenniums until discovered in 1991, preserved in remarkably good condition.
Ötzi is now the oldest European natural mummy, proving that sometimes nature can do a much better job of keeping us “fresh” than we ever could. For a time, he was also at the center of one of the oldest murder investigations in the world. Initially, it was thought that Ötzi died from exposure to wintry elements, but over time it was determined that he had more than likely been killed by another person.
Of course, what would a mummy be without a hex or two? Several people connected to Ötzi have died since his discovery. Naturally, this has led to some speculation that Ötzi might, in fact, be cursed. Obviously, this is nonsense. It’s been almost 25 years since he was discovered. The fact that a few people (seven) out of hundreds died during that time is hardly an anomaly.
The Zagreb Mummy
This is a very rare and interesting case because the mummy itself is not particularly significant. It’s in a pretty average condition—nothing special. She wasn’t somebody important, either. A papyrus buried with her identifies the mummy as the wife of an Egyptian tailor. What is interesting about her, though, is what she was buried in: an ancient text featuring a famous lost language.
The document in question is known as the Liber Linteus Zagrabiensis (Linen Book of Zagreb) or just the Liber Linteus. You can call it the linen book and people will know what you’re talking about because this is the only extant linen book in history. Despite the fact that it’s 2,300 years old, it’s in incredibly good condition because it was used as mummy wrappings.
The language in question is Etruscan. It’s a language about which we know almost nothing because very few Etruscan texts exist today. The Liber Linteus is, by far, the largest source of information of the Etruscan language we have, and we have only been capable of translating small portions of it. The writing is so obscure that the scientists who initially discovered the mummy and its wrappings originally confused it for Egyptian hieroglyphics. It took over 40 years following its discovery to correctly identify the language as Etruscan.
The Beauty of Xiaohe
It’s very rare that you could call a mummy beautiful, but you could see why the Beauty of Xiaohe deserves her nickname. Her facial features have remained mostly intact even if she’s been dead for almost 4,000 years. This includes skin, hair and even eyelashes, allowing her once natural beauty to be evident even now, so long after death.
She is part of the Tarim mummies, so-called because they were found in the Tarim Basin in modern-day Xinjiang, China. As it turned out, this area’s natural conditions are ideal for body preservation.
Another notable aspect of the Beauty of Xiaohe is how she was found. All of her belongings were still with her, which is actually pretty rare for a mummy.
These provided researchers with great insights into what kind of life she once led. As it turned out, she wasn’t just another pretty face. The “Beauty” was actually a village elder or held an equally important status which granted her a fancy burial after death.
Famous Mummies: Ramesses II
Truth be told, we could have probably filled the entire list with ancient Egyptian mummies, but we wanted to add a little variety. That’s why we’re focusing on probably the most famous Egyptian mummy of them all.
Some might argue that Tutankhamun is more deserving, but Ramesses wins for two good reasons: his mummy is in much better condition and he was actually a good ruler. In fact, most people consider him to be the greatest pharaoh in history. You don’t get a name like Ramesses the Great for nothing.
Anyway, Ramesses lived for a very long time for that period – over 80 years. He left behind a priceless collection of historical artifacts in the form of statues, pyramids and, last but not least, his own mummy. His body can now be seen at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo which is probably one of the most fascinating places on Earth.
Here’s a funny story about Ramesses. During the 1970s Egyptologists noticed that his mummy started deteriorating rapidly. Worried that they might lose one of the most historically significant “artifacts” of ancient Egypt, they rushed to take the mummy to Paris for study and treatment. For this, Ramesses had to be issued an Egyptian passport. It listed his occupation as King (deceased).