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An Introduction to Mother Nature’s Mummies

When you think of mummies, one of the first people to come to mind is probably King Tut of Egypt, whose artifacts and replicas have traveled the world for hundreds of years. However, Egypt is not the only culture to have buried their dead in mummy-like states. Additionally, some of the ancient deceased have become natural mummies under the circumstances of their death. In this article, you will learn of some of the most notable mummies in history, including Otzi the Iceman.

What is a Mummy?

In case you’re not 100% sure what a mummy is , it’s a dead body whose skin and organs have been preserved. The preservation could have been done intentionally, like the Egyptians method of burying their dead or from the incidental exposure to elements, such as lack of air, chemicals, extreme coldness, and extremely low humidity.

All over the world, mummies of humans (and animals) have been discovered, which allows archeologists and researchers to answer many questions regarding the past. To date, the oldest discovered mummified human corpse due to natural factors was a decapitated head traced back 6,000 years ago when it was uncovered in 1936.

Examples of Mummies in Nature

The mummies formed under conditions that naturally occur in the environment either died instantly where their bodies were discovered or were unintentionally affected by their surroundings after they were originally buried. A couple of examples include:

Mummification by Extreme Coldness

You’ve heard it before in the news, a completely intact wooly mammoth is found encased in a frozen tomb. Ice and freezing temperatures have been contributing to the preservation of animals and humans for millions of years. Two well-known cases of mummification by extremely cold temperatures, include the Otzi the Iceman and the lady dubbed the Ice Maiden.

Otzi the Iceman

Otzi the Iceman (also known as the Similaun Man or Man from Hauslabjoch) is one of the most well preserved natural mummies to date. He once lived 53 centuries ago around 3300 BC. Discovered on September 1991 in a glacier positioned in the Otztal Alps, he is the oldest natural human mummy of Europe , shedding light on how people lived during the Copper Age. Today, you can find his body and possessions on display at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano (northern Italy).

To learn more about Otzi the Iceman, read the article titled, ’10 Facts About Otzi the Iceman,’ which covers details regarding his lifestyle, environment, and death.

The Ice Maiden

Another example of a well-preserved body in ice was discovered in the burial of who is known as the ‘Ice Maiden.’ In 1993, archaeologist Natalia Polosmak found a rare example of a full ceremonial wooden chamber-tomb devoted to a single woman. Dating back to the 5th century BC, the Ice Maiden was joined by six horses and had been preserved in a casket made out of a hollowed-out tree truck , the larch tree to be exact. Outside of the casket, images of deer and snow leopards were carved in leather.

Researchers conclude that shortly after the Ice Maiden’s burial, her chamber had filled with freezing rain , causing the contents within to remain frozen. The woman was young with hair that still shown its true blonde color. Inside the coffin, the maiden wore a high headdress made out of felt , decorated with 15 gilded birds made from wood. Her body was embalmed with bark and peat. It was also positioned in such a way to look as if she was sleeping on her side.