Xin Zhui And The Story Of The Stunningly Intact Lady Dai Mummy

Published July 2, 2023
Updated November 9, 2023

Even after 2,200 years, the mummy of ancient Chinese noblewoman Xin Zhui a.k.a. Lady Dai remains so well-preserved that there's hair on her head and blood in her veins.

Xin Zhui Lady Dai

David Schroeter/FlickrThe remains of Xin Zhui, a.k.a. Lady Dai, widely called the best-preserved mummy in the world.

Now more than 2,000 years old, Xin Zhui, also known as Lady Dai, is a mummified woman of China’s Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) who still has her own hair, is soft to the touch, and has ligaments that still bend, much like a living person. She is widely recognized as the best-preserved human mummy in history. This is her astonishing story.

The Shocking Discovery Of Xin Zhui, The “Lady Dai” Mummy

Xin Zhui was discovered in 1971 when workers digging near an air raid shelter near Changsha practically stumbled across her massive tomb. Her funnel-like crypt contained more than 1,000 precious artifacts, including makeup, toiletries, hundreds of pieces of lacquerware, and 162 carved wooden figures which represented her staff of servants. A meal was even laid out to be enjoyed by Xin Zhui in the afterlife.

But while the intricate structure was impressive, maintaining its integrity after nearly 2,000 years from the time it was built, Xin Zhui’s physical condition was what really astonished researchers.

Face Of Xin Zhui

Wikimedia CommonsThe face of Xin Zhui, still in astonishing condition after several millennia.

When she was unearthed, she was revealed to have maintained the skin of a living person, still soft to the touch with moisture and elasticity. Her original hair was found to be in place, including that on her head and inside of her nostrils, as well as the eyebrows and lashes.

Baffled Researchers Begin Studying The World’s Best-Preserved Mummy

Scientists were able to conduct an autopsy, during which they discovered that her 2,000-year-old body — she died in 163 BC — was in similar condition to that of a person who had just recently passed.

However, Xin Zhui’s preserved corpse immediately became compromised once the oxygen in the air touched her body, which caused her to begin deteriorating. Thus, the images of Xin Zhui that we have today don’t do the initial discovery justice.

Xin Zhui Recreation

Wikimedia CommonsA recreation of Xin Zhui, a.k.a. Lady Dai.

Furthermore, researchers found that all of her organs were intact and that her veins still housed type-A blood. These veins also showed clots, revealing her official cause of death: heart attack.

An array of additional ailments was also found throughout Xin Zhui’s body, including gallstones, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and liver disease.

While examining Lady Dai, pathologists even found 138 undigested melon seeds in her stomach and intestines. As such seeds typically take one hour to digest, it was safe to assume that the melon was her last meal, eaten minutes before the heart attack that killed her.

Xin Zhui Best Preserved Mummy

Wikimedia CommonsThe hands of Xin Zhui, eerily frozen in time for centuries.

So how was this mummy so well-preserved?

How Is Xin Zhui’s Lady Dai Mummy So Well-Preserved?

Researchers credit the airtight and elaborate tomb in which Lady Dai was buried. Resting nearly 40 feet underground, Xin Zhui was placed inside the smallest of four pine box coffins, each resting within the one larger (think of Matryoshka, only once you reach the smallest doll you’re met with the dead body of an ancient Chinese mummy).

Lady Dai Feet

Wikimedia CommonsAfter more than 2,000 years, the feet of Lady Dai still hold their shape.

She was wrapped in twenty layers of silk fabric, and her body was found in 21 gallons of an “unknown liquid” that was tested to be slightly acidic and containing traces of magnesium.

A thick layer of paste-like soil lined the floor, and the entire thing was packed with moisture-absorbing charcoal and sealed with clay, keeping both oxygen and decay-causing bacteria out of her eternal chamber. The top was then sealed with an additional three feet of clay, preventing water from penetrating the structure.

Who Was Xin Zhui Before She Became The Mummy We Know Today?

Tomb Of Lady Dai

DeAgostini/Getty ImagesDrawing of the burial chamber of Xin Zhui.

While we know all of this about Xin Zhui’s burial and death, we know comparatively little about her life.

Lady Dai was the wife of a high-ranking Han official Li Cang (the Marquis of Dai), and she died at the young age of 50, as a result of her penchant for excess. The cardiac arrest that killed her was believed to have been brought on by a lifetime of obesity, lack of exercise, and an opulent and over-indulgent diet.

Best Preserved Mummy In The World

Wikimedia CommonsWidely called the best-preserved mummy in the world, Lady Dai has baffled experts by staying so intact after millennia.

Nevertheless, her body remains perhaps the best-preserved corpse in history. Xin Zhui is now housed in the Hunan Provincial Museum and is the main candidate for their research in corpse preservation.

After learning about Xin Zhui a.k.a. Lady Dai, the world’s best-preserved mummy, investigate whether or not the Victorians really did have mummy unwrapping parties. Then, read up on Carl Tanzler, the deranged doctor who fell in his love with patient and then lived with her corpse for seven years.

John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
Krissy Howard
Krissy Howard is a New York-based freelance writer. She regularly contributes to Runt of the Web and her original humor has appeared on The Hard Times, Reductress, and The Hairpin.
Citation copied
Cite This Article
Kuroski, John. "Xin Zhui And The Story Of The Stunningly Intact Lady Dai Mummy.", July 2, 2023, Accessed May 23, 2024.