Image: A post-medieval skull with a coin in each eye orbit, excavated from Bethnal Green, London. Copyright AOC Archaeology.
Via Bones Don’t Lie: Coin in the Mouth or Shoe in the Coffin.
Storage by Incognita Nom de Plume on Flickr.

Cast taken from the vacancy left by a decayed body in compacted volcanic ash. It is stored on site at Pompeii, with many other archeological finds, in a dusty open shed closed only by a chainlink fence. Pompeii, Italy

Storage by Incognita Nom de Plume on Flickr.

Cast taken from the vacancy left by a decayed body in compacted volcanic ash. It is stored on site at Pompeii, with many other archeological finds, in a dusty open shed closed only by a chainlink fence. Pompeii, Italy

Titanic Links

I’m sure the Internet has mercilessly pounded this information into your skull the last week or so, but yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.

Here are a few articles and radio stories that have popped up:

  • The New York Times article “Experts Split on Possibility of Remains at Titanic Site" examines the open question, Are there any bodies in there?: “‘I would not be surprised if highly preserved bodies were found in the engine room,’ [Robert Ballard, one of the discoverers of the Titanic wreck] said. ‘That was deep inside the ship.’ Asked how many bodies the broken hull of the Titanic might hold, Dr. Ballard replied: ‘Dozens. Hundreds starts to feel uncomfortable. I know that lots landed on the bottom, because there are so many shoes.’”
  • Which leads me to this nice little piece by Robert Krulwich: “The Strange Persistence of Shoes at Sea.”
  • Remembering the Titanic’s Intrepid Bandleader" (NPR) profiles the dapper Wallace Hartley, leader of the doomed eight-member band that continued to play as the ship sank.
  • Why Didn’t Passengers Panic on the Titanic?" (from NPR’s Planet Money crew) looks at how the length of time it took the ship to sink resulted in the preservation of social norms: "Given time, societal conventions can trump our natural self-interest. A hundred years ago, women and children always went first. Men were stoic. On the Titanic, there was enough time for these norms to assert themselves."
  • Remembering Titanic: Where the Passengers Are Buried,” on the Times' City Room blog features the following two sentences: “Ms. Olsen said that for many people whose friends died on the Titanic, the grief was lasting. Across from the Straus mausoleum is a monument built by an heiress to a laxative fortune.”
An Anglo-Saxon teenager buried—uncoffined, and with gold and garnet goodies—in her bed.
This and other physical aspects of the pits created permafrost, which preserved much of the organic matter in the graves — though looting long ago disturbed permafrost conditions. Still, enough survived of bones, hair, nails and some flesh to tell that some of the bodies had tattoos and had been embalmed. Hair of the buried men had been cut short and covered with wigs.

Korean Mummies!

Did you know there are mummies in Korea? I didn’t, until I found this article from 2007 on National Geographic. (Apparently, archaeologists didn’t, either, until the bodies started showing up, as old cemeteries were moved to make way for new houses in the recent construction boom.)

This person lived about 500 years ago and was found in South Korea. According to National Geographic, the mummification is perhaps the result of a burial practice that evolved in 14th-century Korea:

"The people believed the body should dissolve in a natural manner, without external factors such as worms," said Mark Spigelman of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who is known for his pioneering studies of ancient diseases found on mummified bodies around the world.

"This is why they developed a special burial custom."

The method involves laying a body on ice for 3 to 30 days during mourning, placing the corpse inside an inner and an outer pine coffin surrounded by the deceased’s clothes, and covering the coffin in a lime soil mixture.

"In some cases, this inadvertently resulted in extremely good natural mummification," Spigelman added. "They didn’t expect mummification and, in fact, that’s the one thing they wouldn’t want."

This method—unlike the artificial (and brittle-making) mummification processes used in ancient Egypt—resulted in mummies that are relatively pliable, with better preserved DNA. Researchers were even able to take samples from one mummy of the virus that causes hepatitis B, which could pave the way for research that might help modern-day sufferers of the disease.

A more recent discovery—featured in the Daily Mail—is this lady, who is also believed to be about 500 years old:

She was found in Osan, in South Korea’s Gyeonggi Province, with her purse.

Bottom photograph: The Daily Mail
io9: This 5,300-year-old Iceman has close relatives living in the Mediterranean

Some news about Ötzi from io9.

I love this kind of stuff:

But the coolest results from this study are the ones linking the Iceman to his modern day descendants. Surprisingly, when Zink and his colleagues compared Ötzi’s genome with that of modern day European populations, they found he was most closely related not to people from Northern Italy (where he was discovered), but “present-day inhabitants of the Tyrrhenian Sea,” specifically men from the islands of Sardinia and Corsica.

These islands (labeled here in red) are separated from Ötzi’s final resting place (marked here with a red circle) by over three hundred miles and a sizable body of water. That’s pretty incredible, if you think about it. On one hand, it suggests that Ötzi’s descendents may have once inhabited a much larger portion of mainland Europe, only to die out — or become part of a much more diverse genetic pool — save for the inhabitants of these two, isolated islands. It also points to the evolutionarily isolating effects that islands can have on a population’s genetic makeup.

National Geographic: Lifelike "Wet Mummy" Found During Roadbuilding

This is remarkable: a Chinese “wet” mummy dating from the Ming dynasty. The story’s a year old, so it’s not really news. 

See the whole slideshow and learn interesting things, including this:

During the Ming dynasty, preservation after death was thought to “reflect your purity” in life, [historian Timothy] Brook explained.

Had this woman’s family known her body would be preserved for more than 600 years, they would have been extremely proud, he added.

There are a few additional pictures in this article in the Daily Mail.

Photo by Gu Xiangzhong, Xinhua/Corbis.

The Houston Museum of Natural Science offers some background on this Tarim Basin mummy:

Beautiful “Baby Blue,” an 8 month old boy, was lovingly placed in a red-purple blanket and wrapped securely with red and blue twisted cord. The baby’s eyes were covered with rectangular blue stones. His blue felt cashmere cap with a red felt lining encircled a tiny face that was covered with paint.  A few strands of brown hair with red highlights escaped from under his bonnet. “Baby Blue” lived during the 8th century BCE.

Quigley’s Cabinet also notes that his nose was plugged with red wool and that he was buried with a baby bottle made of sheep’s udder.
Image: Infant Mummy, ca 8th century BC by Penn Museum on Flickr.

Infant mummy, ca 8th century BCE. Excavated from Zaghunluq, Charchan, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China. © Wang Da-Gang.

The Houston Museum of Natural Science offers some background on this Tarim Basin mummy:

Beautiful “Baby Blue,” an 8 month old boy, was lovingly placed in a red-purple blanket and wrapped securely with red and blue twisted cord. The baby’s eyes were covered with rectangular blue stones. His blue felt cashmere cap with a red felt lining encircled a tiny face that was covered with paint.  A few strands of brown hair with red highlights escaped from under his bonnet. “Baby Blue” lived during the 8th century BCE.

Quigley’s Cabinet also notes that his nose was plugged with red wool and that he was buried with a baby bottle made of sheep’s udder.

Image: Infant Mummy, ca 8th century BC by Penn Museum on Flickr.

Infant mummy, ca 8th century BCE. Excavated from Zaghunluq, Charchan, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China. © Wang Da-Gang.

This is the Siberian Ice Maiden. She lived (probably nomadically and definitely tatted-up) on the steppes of Siberia sometime around the 5th century B.C. She was likely in her twenties when she died, and she was buried in the spring.
She was found in 1993 along with six horses and much finery. Fortunately for her discoverers, her grave flooded, causing a 2400-year-strong block of ice to fill out her hollow burial chamber. Unfortunately for you, I do not have a better picture to share.
From Wikipedia: 

She may have had the elevated status of a priestess in her community based upon the items found in her chamber. The Ice Maiden’s preserved skin has the mark of an animal-style deer tattoo on one of her shoulders, and another on her wrist and thumb. She was buried in a yellow silk tussah blouse, a crimson-and-white striped wool skirt with a tassel belt, thigh-high white felt leggings, with a marten fur, a small mirror made from polished metal and wood with carved deer figures, and a headdress that stood nearly three feet tall. The size of the headdress necessitated a coffin that was eight feet long. The headdress had a wooden substructure with a molded felt covering and eight carved feline figures covered in gold. There were remains of coriander seeds in a stone dish that may have been provided for the Maiden’s medicinal use.

Others have speculated that the coriander seeds were meant to disguise the corpse smell.
Unfortunately #2, the handling and transport of her body after its discovery did not proceed without serious hiccups. From NOVA’s article “Unquiet Mummies”:

Soon after the Siberian Maiden was found, for example, her protective shroud of ancient ice melted away and she began to decay. Preserved intact for two millennia, she was now assaulted by airborne fungus and bacteria, dehydrated by low humidity, and struck by the first sunlight she’d seen in thousands of years. […] Within days it became apparent to the Russian archeologists who had discovered her that the mummy was degrading rapidly.
They helicoptered her to the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, but the unrefrigerated delay, including almost a week of transport, took its toll. Even in the freezer labs of Novosibirsk the mummy slept uncomfortably. Hardy fungus attacked air-exposed skin and began to damage it. Desperate to stop the decay of their prize, Russian scientists chose to inter her in the same kind of pickling vat that preserved the bodies of Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin.

The Ice Maiden is one of several Iron Age burials found in the Pazyryk Valley, in Siberia’s Ukok Plateau. You can read more about the Pazyryk burials here.
Image source: Wikipedia.

This is the Siberian Ice Maiden. She lived (probably nomadically and definitely tatted-up) on the steppes of Siberia sometime around the 5th century B.C. She was likely in her twenties when she died, and she was buried in the spring.

She was found in 1993 along with six horses and much finery. Fortunately for her discoverers, her grave flooded, causing a 2400-year-strong block of ice to fill out her hollow burial chamber. Unfortunately for you, I do not have a better picture to share.

From Wikipedia

She may have had the elevated status of a priestess in her community based upon the items found in her chamber. The Ice Maiden’s preserved skin has the mark of an animal-style deer tattoo on one of her shoulders, and another on her wrist and thumb. She was buried in a yellow silk tussah blouse, a crimson-and-white striped wool skirt with a tassel belt, thigh-high white felt leggings, with a marten fur, a small mirror made from polished metal and wood with carved deer figures, and a headdress that stood nearly three feet tall. The size of the headdress necessitated a coffin that was eight feet long. The headdress had a wooden substructure with a molded felt covering and eight carved feline figures covered in gold. There were remains of coriander seeds in a stone dish that may have been provided for the Maiden’s medicinal use.

Others have speculated that the coriander seeds were meant to disguise the corpse smell.

Unfortunately #2, the handling and transport of her body after its discovery did not proceed without serious hiccups. From NOVA’s article “Unquiet Mummies”:

Soon after the Siberian Maiden was found, for example, her protective shroud of ancient ice melted away and she began to decay. Preserved intact for two millennia, she was now assaulted by airborne fungus and bacteria, dehydrated by low humidity, and struck by the first sunlight she’d seen in thousands of years. […] Within days it became apparent to the Russian archeologists who had discovered her that the mummy was degrading rapidly.

They helicoptered her to the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, but the unrefrigerated delay, including almost a week of transport, took its toll. Even in the freezer labs of Novosibirsk the mummy slept uncomfortably. Hardy fungus attacked air-exposed skin and began to damage it. Desperate to stop the decay of their prize, Russian scientists chose to inter her in the same kind of pickling vat that preserved the bodies of Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin.

The Ice Maiden is one of several Iron Age burials found in the Pazyryk Valley, in Siberia’s Ukok Plateau. You can read more about the Pazyryk burials here.

Image source: Wikipedia.

The Beauty of Xiaohe, ca 1800-1500 BCE by Penn Museum on Flickr.

"The Beauty of Xiaohe," female mummy, ca 1800-1500 BCE. Excavated from Xiaohe (Little River) Cemetery 5, Charqilik (Ruoqiang) County, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China. © Wang Da-Gang.

The Beauty of Xiaohe, ca 1800-1500 BCE by Penn Museum on Flickr.

"The Beauty of Xiaohe," female mummy, ca 1800-1500 BCE. Excavated from Xiaohe (Little River) Cemetery 5, Charqilik (Ruoqiang) County, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China. © Wang Da-Gang.

The Beauty of Xiaohe by Penn Museum on Flickr.

"The Beauty of Xiaohe," female mummy, ca 1800-1500 BCE. Excavated from Xiaohe (Little River) Cemetery 5, Charqilik (Ruoqiang) County, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China. © Wang Da-Gang. This mummy has been preserved extremely well, with the entire body covered in an even layer of thick, milky white substance. The “beauty” has thick, flaxen hair that has grown long down to the chest. Except for the head, calves, and feet, the entire body was wrapped in a wide, white wool cloak. She was buried with three small pouches that contain broken pieces of ephedra, a kind of evergreen shrub with medicinal properties, and a wooden phallus was placed on her chest.

The Beauty of Xiaohe by Penn Museum on Flickr.

"The Beauty of Xiaohe," female mummy, ca 1800-1500 BCE. Excavated from Xiaohe (Little River) Cemetery 5, Charqilik (Ruoqiang) County, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China. © Wang Da-Gang.

This mummy has been preserved extremely well, with the entire body covered in an even layer of thick, milky white substance. The “beauty” has thick, flaxen hair that has grown long down to the chest. Except for the head, calves, and feet, the entire body was wrapped in a wide, white wool cloak. She was buried with three small pouches that contain broken pieces of ephedra, a kind of evergreen shrub with medicinal properties, and a wooden phallus was placed on her chest.

Skeletons, mummies, bog bodies, exhumations. The dead, and what happens to them.

About | Archive

Categories:
Meet This Dead Person
Feats of Preservation
Skulls and Skeletons
Bog Bodies
Mummies
Ossuaries and Bone Architecture
Incorruptibles and Saintly Relics
Exhumations
When Famous People Die
When Dead People Turn to Soap
Skeletons in Clothes
Dead People Sitting, Standing, or
     Made to Look Alive

Postmortem Photography
Death in Art
Death Masks
Crime
Suicide
Disease
War
Hearses
Executions
Accidents and Disasters
Funerals
Morgues, Funeral Homes, and the
     Business of Death

Mourning Customs and Imagery
Handling, Disposing of, and Storing
     the Dead

Posthumous Travels and
     (mis)Adventures

Cemeteries and Graveyard Scenes
Personal Details and Opinions
Personal Favorites
Just Plain Weird or Uncategorizable

My Elsewheres:
Slight Perceptual Problem
Old-Timey Cats
Old & Welsh

Sites I Like
Bess Lovejoy
Get Your Shit Together
Morbid Anatomy
Strange Remains
The Chirurgeon's Apprentice
The Order of the Good Death