Symposium 7: Ancient bodies: the interplay between ancient culture, spiritual beliefs and mummification (Aug 11, 2016)

10-13 AUGUST 2016  

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Symposium 7: Ancient bodies: the interplay between ancient culture, spiritual beliefs and mummification

Chairs: Raffaella Bianucci, Despina Moissidou, Dong Hoon Shin, Jane Buikstra
Time: 9:10 am - 1:00 pm
Empresarial Room, 2nd floor 

Before_the_Break_Session: Chaired by Jane Buikstra

Niels Lynnerup: Experiences from the Greenland mummies.

Guido P. Lombardi: What do Peruvian mummies tell us about our ancestors' spiritual beliefs? A chronological overview.

Amelie Alterauge, Peter Weber, Matthias Friske, Manfred Baron von Crailsheim, Wilfried Rosendahl, Natalia Shved, Sandra Lösch: Naming the dead: an interdisciplinary study on human mummified remains from 17th to 19th century crypts in Germany.

Dario Piombino-Mascali: Spontaneous and anthropogenic mummification methods in Sicily (1600-1900).

Coffee Break 

After_the_Break_Session: Chaired by Dong Hoon Shin

Jane A Hill: Predynastic: Egyptian religious practice: a case study in early mummification.

Iwona Kozieradzka-Ogunmakin: Looks can be deceiving: fake and composite mummies from a Ptolemaic Period cemetery at Saqqara.

Dong Hoon Shin, Mi Kyung Song, Ho Chul Ki: A neo-Confucian concept for world after death and accidental mummification in east Asia.

Kathleen Day: Unangax mummies as whalers: a multidisciplinary contextualization of human mummification in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska (Cancelled)

Ulla Lohmann, Ronald Beckett, Andrew Nelson, Dario Piombino-Mascali, Victoria Lywood: See the face: a living history of the cultural/spiritual implications of mummification practices among the Ibaloy of the Kabayan region of the Philippines and the Anga of Papua New Guinea.




(3) What do Peruvian Mummies tell us about our Ancestors' Spiritual Beliefs? A Chronological Overview

Guido P. Lombardi

One of the common elements that unite human cultures is death. All cultures have honored their deceased ones with ceremonies and rites, sometimes extremely complicated and enduring. The Andes has been no exception. Andean South America shows extraordinarily preserved bioarchaeological remains, mostly due to natural conditions. Nevertheless, the reasons for the rise of mummification practices and their background is basically unknown due to the lack of any written records to back the evolution of the natives’ treatment of the dead and their religious beliefs.

South American archaeology, axis of any approach to local past, meeting the challenge, has devised several contrasting ‘cultural horizons’ that show material evidence of ideological changes in specific moments of local prehistory. The significance and origin of these changes, at the center of Andean archaeology theory, provide a framework to organize an evolution of the cultural treatment of the dead over the millennia in this region.

This paper synthesizes information gathered from different sources aiming at presenting a model to show the chronological evolution of local belief systems upon which mummies and mummy - making played, almost constantly, a central role.

The author also presents the hypothetical ways of body disposal, including mummy cremation on specialized structures, as transient practices in the late preceramic period, which could explain the lack of formal cemeteries and human remains in or around their known settlements.

(4) Naming the dead: An interdisciplinary study on human mummified remains from 17th to 19th century crypts in Germany

Amelie Alterauge1,2, Peter Weber3, Matthias Friske4, Manfred Baron von Crailsheim5, Wilfried Rosendahl6, Natalia Shved7, Sandra Lösch1

1Institute of Forensic Medicine, Department of Physical Anthropology, University of Bern, Switzerland 
2Institute for Pre- and Protohistory and Near Eastern Archaeology, University of Heidelberg, Germany
3Friends of St. Nicolaus Church Nedlitz, Germany
4St. Catherine’s Church Salzwedel, Germany
5Sommersdorf Castle, Burgoberbach, Germany
6Reiss-Engelhorn-Museums Mannheim, Germany
7Institute of Evolutionary Medicine, University of Zurich, Switzerland

Church vaults were used as burial places by local noble families or tenants in rural areas between the 16th and the 19th century AD in Central Europe. Due to environmental conditions, the inventory of a crypt is often preserved, including coffins, fabrics, botanical and human remains. The large number of mummies stored in these crypts represents a unique opportunity to investigate the living conditions, diseases and funeral customs of this period. 
In this study, four crypts from Germany dating to the 17th to 19th century AD are investigated: St. Nicolaus Church in Nedlitz, St. Catherine’s Church in Salzwedel, Sommersdorf Castle, and the Church of the Assumption in Illereichen. In total, 36 coffins and 28 mummies in different preservation states can be analysed. 
The first aim is to identify the entombed persons by evaluating the historical, archaeological, anthropological and molecular records. The second aim is to evaluate the influence of burial rites on the preservation of the bodies. 
Archival records and church registers were studied to detect name, ancestry, occupation, date of birth and death and burial site of the individuals. The coffins were inspected and dated by typo-chronological comparisons. The clothes were examined regarding style, sex specificity and chronological era.  Anthropological data for 21 individuals had to rely on in situ examinations or on photographs. A profound scientific examination, including molecular analyses and computed tomography (CT), was performed on seven mummies. Age, sex, body height and pathological alterations were determined. 
All investigated individuals are naturally mummified. Most of them were entombed within three days after death. Constant dry airflow was the main factor for mummification through desiccation. However, absorbent materials and plants played an important role in delaying the decomposition and in covering decay scent. 
At the current state of research it seems unclear to what extent such preservative conditions were intentionally produced or developed as an unintended (though accepted) consequence of crypt-burial.

(5) Spontaneous and Anthropogenic Mummification Methods in Sicily (1600-1900) 

Dario Piombino-Mascali (1-2)

1) Department of Cultural Heritage and of Sicilian Identity, Palermo, Italy
2) Faculty of Medicine, Vilnius University, Vilnius, Lithuania

The island of Sicily is home to a large number of mummified remains, dating from the 16th-20th centuries of the current era, most of which are located in the renowned Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo. There, the oldest mummy is that of Brother Silvestro da Gubbio, who died in 1599, but recent 20th century examples, including the popular ‘sleeping beauty’ Rosalia Lombardo, are present. Beyond the Palermo Catacombs, other important mummy collections include those at Savoca, Piraino, Gangi, Santa Lucia del Mela, Novara and Burgio. Since 2007, the author of this paper has headed the “Sicily Mummy Project”, aimed at scientifically investigating this important bio-cultural heritage and understanding local mummification practices. In this context, historical sources were also collected in order to gain a deeper view on the mummification phenomenon, its roots, and its significance. This overview will summarize the techniques of bodily preservation employed to obtain mummies, together with the related archaeological structures located in crypts and subterranean chapels. Findings will be supported by radiological and computer tomographic data which enabled direct inspection and gathering of an amount of bio-anthropological data; and will be additionally supplemented by archival sources and hitherto unpublished evidence describing in detail how cadavers were treated in order to be preserved. This study will shed new light on mortuary practices and funeral variability in the region, as well as provide examples on the excellent embalming skills achieved in the 19th and 20th centuries. An interpretative pattern will be provided, through comparison with the anthropological and sociological literature.

(6) Predynastic Egyptian Religious Practice: A Case study in Early Mummification. 

HILL, Jane A

Rowan University, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Glassboro, NJ, United States Presenting author: 

As part of a detailed study of the University of Pennsylvania Museum’s Predynastic Egyptian collection, an unprovenanced flexed bundle burial (E 16229) has been analyzed and conserved (Hill & Rosado, forthcoming). The initial study, as well as revealing osteological and paleopathological information about the deceased male, uncovered some of the most complete evidence to date of artificial mummification procedures developed in Egypt’s prehistory. Radiocarbon dating and linen weaving techniques indicate this mummy dates to the Naqada IA to Naqada IIB periods (Dee et. al., Table 1; Hendrickx 2006: 92, Table 2; Jones 2008) or 3760- 3640 BC. While some of the burial practices recorded with this body are well documented from earlier studies of Predynastic cemeteries – the use of multiple types of linen wrappings, basketry, woven matting and animal skin coverings – other features are indicative of a more complex ritual treatment of the body, perhaps indicative of rituals meant to effect a spiritual transformation as well as bodily preservation. These features include removal of the internal organs to be replaced with padding in the abdominal cavity, painting of the shroud with red pigment, and special treatment of linen wrappings with preservative resins. Also, there is evidence of the body being packaged in a manner that would make its transportation possible. Practices encoded in the mummy reveal interesting parallels with Egypt’s first preserved descriptions of mortuary ritual found in the Pyramid Texts. Taken with the growing evidence of ritualized treatment and mummification of the dead in the early Naqada period in Upper Egypt (Jones, et al 2014; Friedman & Maish 1999; Friedman, et al 2002) the implications for the study of the development of Upper Egyptian religion and ritual practice are discussed. 

(7) Looks can be deceiving: Fake and composite mummies from a Ptolemaic Period cemetery at Saqqara

Iwona J. Kozieradzka-Ogunmakin

KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology,
University of Manchester, UK

Disposing of the dead in ancient Egypt was a highly ritualised and complex process instigated by religious beliefs that promised eternal life to those who could satisfy a number of specific requirements. The most important of these requirements was the preservation of the body. But what if there was no body to bury or the body itself was, for some reason, incomplete? 
A Ptolemaic Period cemetery extending westwards to the Step Pyramid enclosure at Saqqara has yielded more than five hundred burials since excavations began in 1996, among which were four suspicious-looking mummies. Detailed examination of these inhumations delivered surprising findings: the wrappings of one of the mummies (B. 519) contained no more than a few bone fragments commingled with scraps of textile and other materials associated with the mummification process, whereas the other three mummies (B. 415, B. 627 and B. 639) were composed of skeletal elements that belonged to more than one individual.
The finding of composite mummies at Saqqara is not unique to ancient Egypt; evidence of this practice has been reported from other burial sites of the Greaco-Roman Period, including Hawara in the Fayum Oasis and Ismant el-Kharab in the Dakhla Oasis. 
In this presentation I will explore the purposes and circumstances for making fake and composite mummies at Saqqara.

(8) A Neo-Confucian Concept for World after Death and Accidental Mummification in East Asia

Dong Hoon Shin*, Mi Kyung Song** and Ho Chul Ki*

*Bioanthropology and Paleopathology Lab, Institute of Forensic Science, Seoul National University College of Medicine, South Korea (; **Department of Clothing Science, Seoul Women’s University, Seoul, South Korea (

Studies on Joseon mummies have provided researchers with invaluable scientific data about Korean people and society in history. In fact, amazingly well preserved mummies became one of the best subjects from which we could obtain the information of health and disease status of Joseon people. However, as for the exact mechanism of mummification, Joseon mummy is quite different from the other naturally or artificially mummified ones.  Rather, Korean mummies are formed by unique sociocultural factor: the formation of Joseon tombs with lime-soil mixture barrier. 

Recent reports about mummies in China, those of Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, might also be of similar origin from cultural perspective. Constructing the tombs in accordance with neo-confucianist axioms might have been the socio-cultural background of mummification commonly shared by Korea and China in history. Actually, the people of both countries did not hope to make their ancestors mummified at all. Constructing the lime-soil mixture barrier around the coffin was to protect the infiltration of insects, plant roots or robbery into the tombs. However, unexpectedly enough, their ancestors were mummified in the tombs by so far unknown mechanism and thus discovered by archaeologists after several hundred years of burial. Natural mummification affected by sociocultural factor: this was the possible cause of mummification observed accidently in some of the pre-modern tombs of East Asian countries.

(9) See the face: A living history of the cultural/spiritual implications of mummification practices among the Ibaloy of the Kabayan region of the Philippines and the Anga of Papua New Guinea.  

Ronald Beckett - Bioanthropology Research Institute, Quinnipiac University

The Anga of Papua New Guinea have practiced smoked body mummification for as long as collective memories can recall. Mummification is reserved for those individuals and families who have distinguished themselves in life. In the traditional view, the smoked body practice allows the living to remain connected to their dead. In the past, there has been no after-life construct associated with the dead, however, without the physical connection spirits may ‘circulate’ and become mischievous. An element in this connection appears to be the ability to ‘see the face’. The smoked bodies protect the village by marking territories. Western missionaries have assimilated many Anga into Western after-life belief systems that challenge the traditional practice of mummification. Burials in coffins are now common, yet due to cultural myths associated with ground burials, some elders hope to reestablish the smoked-body tradition.  In August of 2015, clan leader of Koke village in the Aseki region, Gemtasu, got his final wish and was mummified according to the smoked-body tradition representing the first known cultural mummification in modern times. The smoked-body tradition currently has several cultural implications on a continuum ranging from traditional constructs to one of mummy tourism,  
The Ibaloy of the Kabayan Region of Luzon, Philippines mummified their respected deceased with elaborate ritual and method. Once completed, the mummies were placed within caves in sacred mountains where they are respected as if living. Rituals surround visits to the caves suggesting ancestral respect and a demonstration of the traditional views of the Ibaloy. The ‘spirits’ can become displeased if rituals are not followed causing calamities that afflict a village. The mummified remains provide a cultural identity for the Ibaloy as well as a means of providing income through mummy tourism.


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