There’s definitely something spooky about mummies, but at the same time they’re incredibly fascinating as well. These preserved human (and animal) bodies have lasted for years, sometimes even millennia, offering a tantalizing glimpse into how our ancestors must have looked and lived. As such, they have been searched for by archaeologists and displayed in museums for at least two centuries. Terrified but at the same time intrigued, we’ve compiled a list of thirteen of the creepiest – and among the most interesting – mummies ever discovered.
13. The Guanjuato Mummies – Mexico
The mummies of Guanajuato, Mexico are some of the strangest – and possibly most horrific – in the world. The contorted expressions on some of their faces are testament to the fact that at least a few of them were buried alive. In one case, a woman was discovered to have awoken in her tomb and bitten into her arm, filling her mouth with blood. “The experience so wounded and terrified me, I could hardly wait to flee Mexico,” said renowned author Ray Bradbury, after he’d visited the catacombs of Guanajuato.
These mummies are the result of a cholera epidemic that hit the Mexican town in 1833. The bodies were not mummified on purpose, but rather were preserved naturally in the dry environment. They were discovered when the government introduced a tax on a local cemetery that forced relatives to either pay up or have their dead family members dug up and removed. Few paid the tax, and as a result, most of the bodies were disinterred, with the macabre discovery made that some (2%) of them had mummified. These bodies were stored in a building that eventually became a museum named El Museo De Las Momias – ‘The Mummies' Museum’.
12. The Qilakitsoq Baby Mummy – Greenland
Here’s another possible case of live burial, this time involving a six-month-old boy in Greenland. He was found on top of a stack of three female mummies and another young boy, all of them preserved by the icy climate. It is thought that he could have had Down’s syndrome and that he may have been placed in the grave alive with his dead mother – as was the Eskimo custom of the time. Another three female mummies were found nearby.
The bodies in the cold rock tomb have been dated to 1460CE, and their clothes are wonderful examples of the fashion of their time. All in all, the find included 78 items of clothing made from the skins of various animals, including seals and reindeer. The faces of the adults also had faint tattoos, and the face of the baby is just plain spooky!
11. Rosalia Lombardo – Italy
It’s the extent of the preservation that makes this mummy so creepy. She looks as if she’s asleep and might wake up at any moment – which is a pretty terrifying thought! Little Rosalia Lombardo was only two years old when she died of pneumonia in 1920, in Palermo, Sicily. Her understandably grieved father wanted a way to memorialize her for eternity; we’ll leave it up to you to decide if he went a little too far.
Well known embalmer Alfredo Salafia was called in to mummify Rosalia’s body – and clearly, he did an amazing job. First, the girl’s blood was replaced with formalin. Next, alcohol and glycerin were used to keep her body dry without dehydrating it completely. Salicylic acid was then added to stop the body growing fungus. And finally, zinc salt was added for purposes of corpse ‘rigidity’.
More recently, the body has been moved into a hermetically sealed glass case with nitrogen gas to preserve its creepily pristine condition.
10. Mummy With Painted Face – Egypt
When you think about mummies, the first place that springs to mind is Egypt. Countless stories and movies have been made involving these preserved corpses, wrapped in bandages, coming back to life to terrorize the living. We think this one, on display at the British Museum, is particularly sinister looking with its strange drawn-on face.
Tales of cursed mummies date back to the 19th century. And despite the Egyptian connection, it’s believed that the notion of the ‘pharaoh’s curse’ came about as a result of a weird stage show performed in London in 1821. During the shows, real mummies were unwrapped in front of no doubt enthralled audiences. The horror and indignity of these public ‘undressings’ is thought to have been the inspiration for stories of mummy revenge.
9. Christian Friedrich von Kahlbutz – Germany
An aura of mystery surrounds this scary looking mummy. It belongs to a German knight, Christian Friedrich von Kahlbutz. And according to legend, Kahlbutz was far from chivalrous. He claimed his right to deflower new brides and virgins in his district. When one shepherd's wife refused him, he killed the shepherd, so the distraught widow took him to court for murder.
Once in court, so the story goes, Kahlbutz had only to swear an oath to his innocence to be freed – one of the perks of being a medieval lord. The oath supposedly went, “It was not I, otherwise after my death my body will not decay.” However, since this is exactly what did happen in the end, the knight’s guilt has, apparently, been proven. Of course, there are other people who say the body’s preserved state is simply a case of natural mummification.
8. Ramses II – Egypt
This creepy but rather regal looking mummy belongs to the pharaoh Ramses II, a.k.a. Ramesses the Great. And, despite a shaky start, it’s believed to be one of the best-preserved mummies in the world.
The linen over Ramses II’s body is covered in hieroglyphs, which explain that, after he was first buried in the Valley of the Kings, priests were forced to move the mummy because of looting. He had to be re-wrapped and was first relocated to the tomb of a queen, Inhapy. Later, he moved in with a high priest, Pinudjem II.
Ramses II, who died in 1213 BCE, is one of the best-known Egyptian pharaohs. He is believed to have been the possible ruler of Egypt during the exodus of Moses, and he is represented as such in many works of fiction. One of the interesting characteristics about the mummy is that it has red hair – and ancient Egyptian redheads were connected with the Seth, the god who slayed Osiris.
7. The Skrydstrup Woman – Denmark
Once upon a time, this grinning skull belonged to a slim, tall young woman with long eyelashes, ash blonde hair and an elaborate hairstyle similar to a 1960s beehive. Skrydstrup woman (or girl), as she is known, was buried in South Jutland, around 1300 BCE. Because of her costume and jewelry, it is thought that she was elite and may have belonged to a powerful chieftain’s family.
After her death, Skrydstrup woman, who was only about 18 or 19 years old, was placed in an oak coffin on a bed of chervil. The coffin and herbs have long since decayed, but the body and its clothing were surprisingly well preserved. What’s more, they would have been even more intact had the hardpan layer above the grave not been broken a few years before the body was discovered.
6. Ginger – Egypt
Nicknamed ‘Ginger’, this Egyptian mummy is actually from a time before Egyptians began purposely mummifying their dead. Ginger was an adult male who died more than 5,000 years ago and was buried in direct contact with the dry desert sand, which is the reason for his corpse’s preservation. He is only one of many of these early Egyptian mummies naturally created this way, but he is believed to be the oldest.
Of course, every creepy mummy needs a creepy story, and Ginger is no exception. It was said that when the British museum were looking for a mummy in the 19th century, they eventually bought this specimen from a disreputable antiques dealer. The dealer, according to accounts, had a relative of similar size and appearance to the mummy who strangely disappeared around the time the mummy was procured…
5. Gallagh Man – Ireland
This strange looking mummy, known as Gallagh Man, was discovered in a bog in Ireland in 1821. Rather than removing him from his grave, his finders covered him back up again – after which he was dug up and reburied every time someone wanted to take a look at him. So much for resting in peace – or should we say peat.
This bog mummy, just one of many found in northern European bogs, dates back 2,300 years to the Iron Age. Gallagh Man was buried in a cape with a piece of willow wood around the neck, which some researchers believe may have been used to strangle him. Adding to the violent death theory, two wooden stakes were used to tie him down.
4. Rendswühren Man – Germany
Like Gallagh Man, Rendswühren Man was found in a bog, this time in Germany in 1871. Unfortunately, this was a person who did not die well. According to an autopsy performed on his body after its discovery, Rendswühren Man was beaten to death, which left him with a triangular hole in his skull.
Rendswühren Man was about 40 to 50 years old when he died, and is thought to have lived during the first or second century CE. After he was found in the 19th century, the body was smoked in order to better preserve it.
3. Sethos I – Egypt
The 14th-century mummy of Sethos I lies in its Egyptian coffin. The Egyptians, of course, were expert embalmers – which is why we can admire their work 3,000 years later. The process itself took 70 days and was performed by special priests who had a great knowledge of human anatomy – and how to preserve it.
All the internal organs were removed from the corpse, except for the heart. These organs were kept separately in boxes or jars. They were buried stored inside these jars, or, in later techniques, treated and placed back inside the body. The body itself was dried out with natron salts, after which any saggy bits might be propped up with linen and other materials. False eyes were added, and then came the wrappings – hundreds of yards of them. Finally, the mummy was ready for the afterlife!
2. The Ukok Princess – Siberia
The Altai Mountains are a mysterious place, even today. And one famous archaeological discovery is this mummy, the Siberian Ice Maiden, better known as the Ukok Princess. Kept at an institute in Novosibirsk since her discovery, this 2,500-year-old lady (she actually died in her mid to late twenties) is especially well known for her stunning tattoos, which are said to be the most elaborate of their kind anywhere on Earth.
But not everyone was happy about the disinterment of the Ukok Princess – who was most likely a shaman – from her icy tomb. Altai locals believe that there have been many disastrous consequences since she was removed, including forest fires, earthquakes, illnesses, and suicides.
Scientists, on the other hand, believe that what they have gained from these remains is priceless historical knowledge. A compromise has been reached and the mummy will now be returned to the Altai, albeit to a museum where she will continue to be studied. Yet the specter of a curse still looms, even among the team who made the discovery, members of which have apparently experienced nightmares and a near helicopter crash.
1. The Nazca Mummies – Peru
This mummy looks like it belongs to someone who died sitting cross-legged, and just kind of leaned over a bit. In fact, the mummies of Chauchilla in Peru were placed in a sitting position after death, facing towards the rising sun.
The remarkable preservation of these bodies is due to the arid desert environment surrounding them and a couple of procedures carried out during burial. For one, the skin of the corpses was coated with a resin, which is believed to have kept insects away and slowed down the effects of bacteria. They were also wrapped in cotton, which provided further protection from the forces of decay. The creepy but well-preserved results speak for themselves.
The study of mummies is not without its controversies. Indigenous people of various nations object to their ancestors being disturbed from their place of rest, for one. Then there are the contentious findings of the researchers who study the mummies, especially what the research might mean to the politics of land ownership today. However, it can be argued that all this attention only makes the mummies seem that much more intriguing. Either way, there’s little doubt that they will continue to populate our museums, and our horror movies, for a long time to come.