Extreme cold, very dry regions, and bogs are all conditions in which bodies will naturally mummify, often only to be found thousands of years later. In the case of the Guanajuato mummies, the subjects only had to wait a few hundred years, and were not so much discovered as evicted.
From 1865 to 1958, the town of Guanajuato, Mexico, required that relatives pay a grave tax. When the relatives failed to do so for three years in a row, their deceased loved ones were promptly dug up and evicted. Weirdly, due to the extremely dry conditions of the soil, the corpses often came up as well-preserved mummies. The cemetery kept these strange mummified corpses in an underground—actually under the cemetery grounds itself—ossuary in case the relatives came around with the money wanting a re-burial. By 1894, the ossuary had racked up enough mummified bodies to re-brand itself as a museum. Now there are 119 on display.
Because they were formed naturally, the mummies are more gruesome-looking then your standard Egyptian mummy. With gaunt and twisted faces like extras from a horror movie, and often covered in the tattered rags they were buried in, the mummies stand, lean and recline in glass cases throughout the museum. Perhaps the most shocking to visitors are the pregnant mummy and the shrunken child mummies, including "the world's smallest mummy," which is no bigger than a loaf of bread. It is still unknown what quality of the soil or the environment of this particular cemetery produces so many natural mummies, and the mystery has given way to many superstitions about the mummies. A common local belief is that the mummification is divine punishment for acts committed while alive.
Are you okay, mummy?
- The catacombs at Capuchin Monastery in Palermo are home to thousands of well-dressed mummies
- The self-mummified monks of Japan spent years drinking poisonous tea, preserving their organs while ensuring their death
- The mummies of Vac, Hungary, lie in coffins lovingly hand-painted with crucifixes, flowers, bible quotes and angels
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