Other embalming methods
Embalming methods usually reflect the tools and materials available.
For example, the Aleut people, who lived on the Aleutian Islands off the coast
of Alaska, mummified their dead by removing the organs and stuffing the cavity
with dry grass. Next they laid the body in a stream, where the running water
dissolved the fat and washed it away, leaving only muscle and skin. The body
was then tied in a squatting position and dried in the open air. Once it was
dry, the mummy was wrapped in several layers of waterproof leather and woven
clothing and placed in a warm cave, either hanging from the ceiling or lying on
a platform to keep it off the damp floor. In one Aleutian cave, archaeologists
found more than 50 mummies dating back 250 years.
In Papua New Guinea, embalmers smoke-cured the dead, covered them in a
protective layer of clay and propped them up on scaffolding that overlooked
It's not known exactly how the Anasazi, who lived in the "four corners" region
of the American Southwest, mummified their dead. But mummies dating as far
back as 100 A.D have been found wrapped in fur and leather blankets in caves
and rock holes—often wearing a new pair of sandals, presumably for use in
the next life.
Some of the most spectacular mummies were created accidentally. In
1991, German climbers found a body frozen on top of a glacier near the
Austrian-Italian border. Initially, the police and forensic experts who
arrived on the scene didn't realize how old the body was—even though he was
wearing a grass cape, carrying a bow and arrows and had shoes stuffed with
grass for warmth. Later, radiocarbon dating determined that the "Iceman" died
sometime between 3350 and 3300 B.C.—making him the oldest well-preserved
mummy in the world.
In 1972, hunters found some of the best ever naturally-preserved human bodies
at a remarkable abandoned settlement called Qilakitsoq, in Greenland. The
"Greenland Mummies," who died about 500 years ago, consisted of a six-month old
baby, a four year old boy, and six women of various ages. Protected by a rock
that overhung a shallow cave, the bodies were naturally mummified by the
sub-zero temperatures and dry, dehydrating winds. Accompanying the eight
bodies were seventy-eight items of clothing, most made out of seal skin.
Over the years, peat cutters working the bogs of northwest Europe have
uncovered hundreds of mummies. The spongy top layer of a peat bog tends to
seal off oxygen from the layers below. A bog's naturally acidic environment
also helps to create mummies and gives them a distinctively brown, leathery and
life-like appearance. The oldest "bog mummies" are from the Iron Age (between
400 B.C. and 400 A.D.) and were Celtic or Germanic contemporaries of the
Romans. Strangely, many of the mummies found in the European bogs show
evidence of violent deaths. With slit throats and broken skulls, these
individuals may have been victims of ritual sacrifice, not unlike the mummies
of the high Andes.