Quiz Answer 10
Myth 10. All mummies are hundreds or thousands of years old.
Fact: Some mummies have been created more recently.
Although most mummies were made intentionally or unintentionally many years ago, some mummies are more recent, and they are almost always accidental. For example, the mummified bodies of soldiers killed during World Wars I and II have been found in various swamps in Europe.
In another example, Joseph Stalin, once the leader of the Soviet Union, was, according to many historians, responsible for the murder of millions of people during the Great Purge in the late 1930s. The secret police were ordered to arrest, question, and kill anyone suspected of being a counterrevolutionary. Numerous murders took place in Siberia, where the victims were quickly and quietly buried along the banks of the Ob River. Writer Adam Hochschild explains that many of the bodies became mummies because they were buried in dry, cold sand that lay on top of permanently frozen soil.
Then, in 1979, the bodies began to surface along the river. Although the secret police quickly built a wall and cordoned off the riverbank so that nearby townspeople wouldn't discover the crime, a sixty-two-year-old machinist and his mother were passengers on a boat traveling past the riverbank when they saw the secret police at work. He told Hochschild what he saw:
The sun was setting. I saw this hastily made fence, and a lot of people. But the boat was blowing its whistle, and I didn't dare go ashore to investigate. Then the boat was on the move past the grave; the corpses were well lit by the sun.
Obviously, this accidental process was not intended by the murderers.
A very rare type of human mummy was discovered in Boise, Idaho, in early 1994, according to newspaper wire services. Neighbors of a man living in a condominium complex became concerned one day when he did not answer the doorbell.
They asked a retired doctor named Robert McKean to check on the man. To his surprise, the front door was unlocked, and Dr. McKean entered the apartment. He quickly discovered that the man was too sick to move.
Then Dr. McKean noticed the man's elderly mother lying on a couch in the back living room. She too could not move, but for a very different reason: she had been dead for seven years. For whatever reason, the man had not reported his mother's death and had continued to live with her as her body became mummified.
Accidental mummies aren't the only ones made today. For example, most medical students dissect a special type of human mummy — cadavers preserved in a solution of formaldehyde — to learn about anatomy. But officials at the Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California, had a better idea for mummifying the cadavers: first, the bodies were dehydrated, then injected and coated with silicone, a type of plastic. Next, the cadavers were cut into slices, so that sections could be removed and the internal organs viewed. This process doesn't smell, and plastic mummies can easily be reused, so fewer cadavers are needed.
But you may wish to make some personal mummy plans. For example, you can decide to have your pet mummified by a company in Salt Lake City. You can also sign yourself up to be mummified at death at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. Under the direction of John Cheu, a special program at the Institute of Funeral Services and Anatomy permits people to be mummified, using the best Egyptian techniques. So far, a number of people have registered for the program, but none have yet died.