Experts believe that grave robbers dumped the mummy when they couldn't find anyone to purchase it from them.
Locals in Sanaa, Yemen just found a 2,000-year-old disemboweled mummy among piles of garbage. It was discovered curled up in a fetal position and wrapped in an animal hide in accordance with standard embalming practices from the time.
According to Business Insider, the mummy likely died in the third or fourth century B.C.E. At this time, the Kingdom of Saba — a wealthy trading empire with connections across the Middle East — was at the height of its power.
However, the mummy’s missing insides were not in accordance with the funerary practices of the Sabaeans. The disembowelment was likely the work of grave robbers.
According to Arab News, researchers believe tomb raiders or antiquities smugglers mishandled the remains, resulting in the loss of the mummy’s insides.
Unfortunately, the mummy shows other signs of mistreatment as well. There are signs of rapid decomposition as a result of its exposure to the sun, water, and other materials that it made contact with while in the garbage. Officials have seized the mummy and sent it to a museum for preservation and study.
“It has been taken to the National Museum in Sanaa for preservation and experts from the board will treat it for bacterial decay that started to appear and studies are being conducted,” The Sanaa-based General Organization of Antiquities and Museums announced.
For a nation already struggling to preserve its historical artifacts due to years of civil war, the Yemeni people have expressed outrage at the condition of the mummy.
“In the land of Saba, Himyar, Qataban, Awsan, Ma’in, and Hadramout, it is natural to find ancient mummies in mountain caves and rocky graves. But the discovery of a mummified body at a Sanaa rubbish dump would be a calamity and the height of irresponsibility,” Abdullah Mohsen, a Yemeni antiquities trafficking researcher, wrote in a message posted on Facebook.
Khaled Al-Ruwaishan, Yemen’s former cultural minister, followed with similar sentiments: “My sorrow and rage over the fate of a nation and its people is immense.”
Despite calls for the preservation of Yemen’s historical artifacts, antiquities smuggling remains a lucrative business. Traffickers who are unable to find buyers frequently dispose of their illicit finds. Experts believe this is how the mummy landed in the garbage dump.
“[The smuggler] may have feared getting apprehended or facing legal action,” an unnamed archaeologist told Arab News. “He thus threw it away.”
Even if Yemeni researchers could recover mummies and other historical artifacts from smugglers, the current civil war poses a massive hurdle.
“The mummies have started to decay and are infected with bacteria. This is because we don’t have electricity and the machines that are supposed to maintain them. We need some chemicals to sanitize the mummies every six months, and they aren’t available due to the political situation,” said Abdelrahman Jarallah, the head of the main university in Sanaa’s antiquities department, in 2017 according to Reuters.
As the war drags on, universities and other organizations in Yemen do not have the resources they need to protect the country’s historic artifacts. But despite the bleak situation, researchers are hopeful and determined to preserve what is left of Yemen’s history.
“So many places have been destroyed because of this war,” said Ameeda Shaalan, an antiquities professor at Sanaa’s main university. “We now have some things that have survived, and we must preserve them.”
After learning about the 2,000-year-old Yemeni mummy found in the trash, read about nine other mummies and the fascinating stories behind them. Then, discover Yemen’s Well of Hell.