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16th century human mummy, Venzone , Northern Italy
One of the Llullaillaco mummies from the province of Salta ( Argentina )
Howard Carter at the open coffin in Tutankhamun's tomb
Preparing a Peruvian child mummy for the CT scanner

When mummy is called the remains of animal or human bodies by physical or chemical conditions on natural, commonly the term decay are protected by the combined processes of decay and receive in its general form. A mummy can be artificially produced by humans using special processes ( mummification ) or it can be created “by itself” through naturally occurring processes ( mummification ); the end result is referred to as “mummified” in both cases.

The term "mummy" is derived from the Persian word mumia ( neupers. موم/ mūm ), which means “ bitumen , pitch”. In ancient Egypt , the term mumia was eponymous, as the blackish-resinous substances were mostly used in ancient Egyptian mummies; Bitumen was not used until the Greco-Roman period .

In order for a mummy to be created, the destruction of the soft tissue caused by autolysis , bacteria and insects in a corpse must be effectively prevented. An arid climate or landscape elements (e.g. caves ) and buildings that are continuously flowed through with air are conducive to mummification due to the high evaporation rates that prevail there. A mummy can also form at temperatures well below the freezing point of water . In the case of bog corpses , which are also referred to as mummies, the soft tissue preservation takes place in the acidic environment of a raised bog through the exclusion of oxygen and the action of humic and tannic acids , whereby the mineral components of the bones often dissolve. In the case of artificial mummification, the removal of the entrails and various embalming techniques have also proven effective.

Archaeologically , the definition of mummy is difficult because originally only Egyptian corpses were referred to as mummies. The term “mummy” has also been established for finds from indigenous peoples of South America (e.g. Paracas culture or from the Nazca culture ). The term “mummy” is not defined in a binding manner for archaeological science. Most of the time the term is avoided in Germany because it is associated too much with Egyptian finds.


The substance " mumia " obtained from mummies was of medical importance . Bitumen has long been known to nomadic peoples in North Africa because of its draining properties as a wound remedy (cf. draft ointment ). Since it was assumed that Egyptian mummies were embalmed with it, attempts were made to obtain the expensive material first by scraping it off and later by grinding the mummy itself. Abdul Latif, a 12th century Arab traveler, reported that the myrrh- scented mummies were sold in Egypt for medicinal purposes. In the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century there was still a lively trade in it in Europe, as mummies were considered an excellent remedy for fractures, wounds and contusions . At the beginning of the 20th century, the Darmstadt-based pharmaceutical company Merck sold the products for twelve gold marks per kilogram. Since counterfeits could be exposed , the products were given the additions real ( Mumia vera ) and Egyptian ( Mumia ägyptica ).

Natural mummies

Detail of a mummy from Guanajuato ( Mexico )

In dry, hot areas, salty soil results in natural mummification (mummification). This is also where the custom of mummification originated. Natural mummies are created

  • by storage in cavities within absorbent rock, e.g. B. Tuff (such as in the Capuchin Crypt in Palermo ),
  • due to dryness of the soil at the burial site, e.g. B. in the Sahara ( white mummies ), in the Peruvian desert or the Altai mountains,
  • as a glacier mummy when the corpse is buried in a very cold place (e.g. glacier or taiga ) and is "frozen", as it were,
  • by a cold, drying draft, as in the lead cellar of the cathedral in Bremen or on the Great St. Bernhard,
  • through mineral components of the soil (e.g. alum content ),
  • due to chemical conditions (e.g. tannic acid in bogs )

Artificial mummies

In Egypt

Mummy in hieroglyphics
V28 A53

binding (to the body) / mummy
with determinative for mummy
Painted mummy bandage
Egyptian mummy in the Vatican Museum

Among the artificial mummies, which are produced by special preservation, the Egyptian mummies have been famous since ancient times.

The mummies in the Egyptian graves lie partly in sarcophagi or in coffins , which not infrequently have the external shape of a mummy; this is especially true of the innermost box, which is often made of only one kind of cardboard; They are tightly wrapped with an extraordinary number of linen bandages, rarely made of cotton, and the head is sometimes supported by a hypocephalus .

In other graves, e.g. B. in Theban folk graves, the mummies lie uncovered in piles by the hundreds and thousands. They are elongated, with the hands crossed over the chest or over the lap, or with arms close to the sides, women sometimes in the position of Botticelli's Venus .

Between the legs or hands, more rarely in the armpits, one finds religious manuscripts on papyrus , especially from the Book of the Dead , with which the poorer people use the mummy bandages. Smaller amulets can be found on the belly and on the chest, more often between the bandages ; the mummies of the noble are often adorned with jewelry made of gold and precious stones, necklaces, rings, earrings, scarabs , amulets and figures of gods. Some have also found wreaths of leaves and flowers, often wonderfully preserved, and chains of berries.

Mummy portrait from the Fajum (Greco-Roman period)

The thoracic and abdominal cavities are empty, separated by balls of canvas and filled with a hard, black, resinous substance. The female breasts are often found stuffed with canvas or poured with resin.

The mummies are so completely permeated by the antiseptic , resinous and aromatic substances with which they have been treated that they have assumed a dark yellow, reddish, brown or black color and a not unpleasant, aromatic odor.

The left hand is almost always decorated with rings or scarabs. The mummies of the later period are partly black and heavy and together with the bandages form a misshapen mass. The Arab scholar Abdul Latif already tells of pieces of gold that were found on the mummies, and in many museums one can find specimens showing the gilding on the face, on the eyelids, on the lips, on the genitals, on hands and feet.

Cat mummies in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto

Mummies from Memphis were black, dried out and very fragile, while those from Thebes were yellow, dull, and often still supple, in a different condition, which suggests a different treatment. Animals, especially cats (because they were the animals of the pharaohs and were considered sacred), were mummified in order to travel to the afterlife with their owners. In the late Egyptian period, especially in the 25th Dynasty, the animal cult gained such importance that large cemeteries with animal mummies emerged.

The type of treatment and equipment of the mummies was very different depending on the time, place and of course the status. Initially only royal mummies were embalmed, but as the Old Kingdom progressed, officials were also able to be mummified. The common people could only be dried by the property of the desert sand.

The Egyptian mummies, especially in 19th century England, were often unwrapped in front of an audience at so-called mummy parties . The term Egyptomania is known for the first time from this period . Before that, they were often used as fuel ( Mark Twain ). Egyptian mummies of simple Egyptians were often processed into miracle medicines in the past centuries.

In other cultures

In addition to the ancient Egyptians, the old Canaries in the Canary Islands ( Spain ) also knew about artificial conservation; their mummies are sewn into goat skins and are well preserved. The corpse was called xaxo . They can be viewed today in the Museo de Naturaleza y Arqueología in Santa Cruz de Tenerife and in the Museo Canario in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria . Similar cases exist in Central and South America, where e.g. In Paracas, for example, the cavern culture wrapped its deceased in innumerable layers of thick fabrics and preserved them in this way. Peruvian mummies are found in a crouching position, covering their faces with both hands.

Even with Burmese priests is the custom of embalming, which mostly related to the belief in a revival of the dead body.

Mummification is controversial among the Chinchorro (Chile): they removed the flesh, supported the bones with sticks, and covered them with a kind of plaster of paris. They stuck the skin on it and painted it black. This means that approx. 80% of the original organic material was not preserved or was taken into account.

Furthermore, mummification was practiced less successfully in medieval Japan under the Fujiwara rulers or with the Buddhist monks (self-mummification by refusing to drink, see Sokushinbutsu ).

Daoist monks also practiced self-mummification in China in the 5th and 6th centuries AD. They wanted to achieve "immortality". In doing so, they learned to control physical processes through meditation techniques and changed their diet. The monks then brought about death by sealing their digestive organs by drinking lacquer tree sap. The bodies were then steam dried and again sealed with varnish.

Mummy of Xin Zhui (Lady of Dai)

In 1921 the so-called girl from Egtved was found. The find dates from the older Bronze Age , around 1400 BC. The girl lay in a large oak coffin. Examination of the teeth estimated their age to be 16 to 18 years. The so-called Egtved Pigen is only preserved in the soft tissues and teeth. The woman from Skrydstrup comes from the early Nordic Bronze Age (around 1300 BC). It was found in 1935 in a well-preserved oak coffin near Skrydstrup, in Jutland. The find was important for the reconstruction of the women's costumes of this time and region.

The best-preserved mummy in the world was found in Mawangdui in the central Chinese province of Hunan from 1972–1973 . Died Lady von Dai . Your joints are still soft and blood can be drawn. However, mummification was not brought about by removing body parts or by dehydration and seems to depend on various factors (burial in cool earth; several airtight, canted coffins; a red liquid in the coffin). It comes from the Han Dynasty .

In more recent times, with the means of advanced chemistry, one would be able to produce just as perfect mummies as in ancient Egypt, if value was placed on it, as Brunetti in Padua has proven with his artificially petrified corpses. Harrison in England preserved a corpse using the Egyptian method.

Perhaps the most prominent artificial mummy of modern times is the corpse of Lenin , which was laid out in the Lenin Mausoleum in Moscow after his death in 1924 and whose corpse, preserved by chemical processes, is still accessible to the public today.


Medicine and superstition

Mummy components were probably already used for medicinal purposes in antiquity, although some linguistic confusion with the natural substance mumijo , which is also used , is to be assumed. In the healing system of Paracelsus and his successors, new mummies, which were prepared from the bodies of the hanged and those of living people, played a major role, as well as in popular belief about witches , in that it was believed that using them could harm the living (see picture magic , Voodoo ). Hence the caution, which is still alive today among the people, to burn hair and nail sections so that they do not fall into bad hands.

Mumia , the remains of mummified people ground into powder, was marketed as a medicinal product until the 20th century. From the 16th century it was also used as a beautifully colored brown pigment . Since the 12th century, real or “counterfeit” mummies have been imported from Egypt to Europe, and they have been traded throughout the Mediterranean.

Collectibles and exhibits

From the Renaissance onwards one could speak of a “mummy mania”. Since true mummies were expensive, the trade in counterfeits began. Around 40 fake mummies have been discovered in museums today.

Mummy parties

With Napoleon's Egyptian Expedition (1798–1801) and the reports on the discoveries made by his soldiers and fellow explorers, a “cult of Egypt” was triggered in Europe, and so-called “mummy parties” became fashionable in England at the beginning of the 19th century . At these parties of English lords , mummies were then jointly unwrapped. The participants often hoped for valuable surprises such as jewelry or medallions . At other such events, people just wanted to shudder, which is why absurd stories were often told in their course.

After the parties, many lords kept the mummies as decorations or sold them. The linen and the rest were worthless to them and therefore were often thrown away, although at the same time mummy linen was in great demand in North America for making paper. There were also some of these events in Germany, such as that of Friedrich Karl of Prussia , the nephew of the then king. This event, which took place in the Dreilinden hunting lodge on a billiard table with a mummy that you had brought yourself, was even later described by the attending Egyptologist Heinrich Brugsch . According to him, however, the unwound mummy contained no valuable items.


Mummies are used as the undead in numerous horror novels . Jane C. Loudon triggered a whole series of mummy novels with her novel "The Mummy!" (The Mummy) from 1827, which became the basis for film adaptations.

There is also a pen & paper role-playing game from White Wolf Verlag, Mummy: The Resurrection , in which you slip into the role of such an undead.


In November 2000, a mummy was confiscated in Quetta, Pakistan, which later became known as the Persian Mummy . It was an alleged daughter of the Achaemenid king Xerxes I , who was mummified in Egyptian technology and decorated with gold pieces of jewelry, some of which were labeled. After initial doubts due to peculiarities in the mummification technique and spelling errors in the inscriptions, it was finally confirmed by radiocarbon dating that it was in fact a young woman who died in 1996, probably murdered. It remained unclear whether it was a stolen corpse or whether the woman was murdered directly for the manufacture of the mummy.

In September 2013 a box with Egyptian characters was found in Diepholz (Germany) in the attic of a house built in 1970 of a deceased who was touring Egypt in the 1950s. The human mummy-shaped content, although the bandage was estimated to date from the 20th century, was believed to be a human mummy according to an MR computed tomography, although the cervical vertebrae were clearly missing. Only a more precise, decomposing analysis showed that it is a plastic skeleton - but combined with a human skull. The arrowhead in the head is mistaken for children's toys.

List of known mummies

Well-known sites




North America

South America



Other countries

See also


  • Alan Gardiner : Egypt of the Pharaos. An Introduction. Clarendon Press, Oxford 1961 (German as: History of Ancient Egypt. An Introduction (= Kröner's pocket edition. No. 354). Translated from the 3rd revised edition by Eckart Kißling. Kröner, Stuttgart 1965).
  • Jan Assmann : Death and the afterlife in ancient Egypt. Beck, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-406-46570-6 .
  • Mircea Eliade : Histoire des croyances et des idées religieuses. 3 volumes. Editions Pavot, Paris 1976–1983 (German as: History of religious ideas (= Herder Spectrum. No. 4200). 4 volumes (in 5 parts). Herder, Freiburg (Breisgau) et al. 1993, ISBN 3-451-04200-2 ).
  • Renate Gerner: Instruments and substances used in mummification. In: Renate Gerner, Rosemarie Drenkhahn (ed.): Mummy and Computer. A multidisciplinary research project in Hanover. Special exhibition of the Kestner Museum Hanover from September 26, 1991 to January 19, 1992. Kestner Museum, Hanover 1991, ISBN 3-924029-17-2 , p. 28 f.
  • Renate Germer: Mummies. Witnesses of the Pharaonic Empire. New edition. Artemis & Winkler, Zurich / Munich 2001, ISBN 3-7608-1231-7 .
  • James E. Harris: mummies, scientific study of. In: Kathryn A. Bard (Ed.): Encyclopedia of the Archeology of Ancient Egypt. Routledge, London 1999, ISBN 0-415-18589-0 , pp. 537-543.
  • Karl Meier: About the real mummy. In: Sudhoffs Archiv 30, 1937, pp. 62–69.
  • Benno R. Meyer-Hicken: About the origin of the substances named MUMIA and their use as medicinal products. Kiel, dissertation 1978.
  • Jürgen Mischke: Mummy resin and skull moss. Man as a medicine. Pharmazie-Historisches Museum Basel, Basel 2010, ISBN 978-3-033-02740-4 .
  • Milan Ráček : Those who did not go to earth ... The cultural history of conservative burial forms. Böhlaus, Vienna / Cologne / Graz 1985, ISBN 3-205-07244-8 .
  • Shelley Tanaka: The Mysterious World of Mummies. How bodies survive the millennia. Knesebeck, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-89660-413-2 .
  • Alfried Wieczorek , Wilfried Rosendahl (ed.): Mummies. The dream of eternal life. 2nd, partially revised edition. Verlag Philipp von Zabern, Darmstadt 2015, ISBN 978-3-8053-4939-0 .
  • Alfried Wieczorek, Wilfried Rosendahl, Hermann Wiegand (eds.): Mummies and museums. Colloquium on the exhibition Mummies. The dream of eternal life. (= Mannheimer Geschichtsblätter. Special publication Volume 2). Verlag Regionalkultur, Heidelberg et al. 2008, ISBN 978-3-89735-586-6 .

Web links

Commons : Mummies  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Natural Mummies  - Sources and Full Texts

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b Wolfgang Helck , Eberhard Otto : Small Lexicon of Egyptology. 4th revised edition, Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1999, ISBN 3-447-04027-0 , p. 192.
  2. ^ Arthur C. Aufderheide: The Scientific Study of Mummies. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge et al. 2003, ISBN 0-521-81826-5 .
  3. Stephen A. Buckley, Richard P. Evershed: Organic chemistry of embalming agents in Pharaonic and Graeco-Roman mummies. In: Nature . No. 413, October 25, 2001, pp. 837-841, doi: 10.1038 / 35101588 .
  4. Alison Galloway et al .: Decay rates of human remains in an arid environment. In: Journal of the Forensic Science Society. Vol. 34, No. 3, May 1989, ISSN  0015-7368 , pp. 607-616.
  5. ^ Bernard Greenberg: Flies as forensic indicators. In: Journal of Medical Entomology. Vol. 28, No. 5, September 1991, ISSN  0022-2585 , pp. 565-577.
  6. ^ Wijnand van der Sanden : Mummies from the moor. The prehistoric and protohistoric bog bodies from northwestern Europe . Batavian Lion International, Amsterdam 1996, ISBN 90-6707-416-0 (Dutch, original title: Vereeuwigd in het veen . Translated by Henning Stilke).
  7. ^ W. Reiss , A. Stübel : The dead field of Ancon in Peru. A contribution to the knowledge of the culture and industry of the Inca Empire. 15 volumes. Asher, Berlin 1880–1887.
  8. Carl Reichert: The Mumia nativa or Muminahi, a kind of prehistoric antiseptic bandage in Persia. In: German Archive for the History of Medicin u. medical geography. Volume 3, 1880; Reprint: Hildesheim / New York 1971; Pp. 140-145.
  9. Benno R. Meyer-Hicken: About the origin of the substances called mumia and their use as remedies. Medical dissertation, Kiel 1978.
  10. ^ Pierre Pomet: Un vieux remède: La mumie. (from: P. Pomet: Histoire générale des drogues simples et composées, traitant des plantes, des animaux et des mineraux. Volumes I – II, Paris 1691/92 and 1694) In: Aesculape. 1927, pp. 206-211.
  11. a b Mummies in the Vatican are fakes. Made in England. In: January 22, 2015, accessed January 22, 2015 .
  12. Mummies in Vatican Museums exposed as fakes. In: January 21, 2015, accessed January 22, 2015 .
  13. R. Germer: Mummies. Munich 2001, p. 23 f.
  14. The "Curse of the Mummy" - the attic mummy is made of plastic . On: of September 25, 2013, last accessed on June 26, 2014.