World Mummy Q&A
On occasion, visitors to the Mummy Tombs have written with interesting (and sometimes strange) questions about mummies from around the world. Here is a selection of their questions with my answers. If you have a question, you can write to me. If I can, I will post an answer here.
The Lyon Quintuplets
QUESTION: I am researching the Lyon quintuplets who were born near Kevil, Kentucky, about 1896. They only lived approximately 2 weeks and were the first quints born in the US (?). Supposedly their mother would not let them be buried for fear someone would try to steal the bodies, and she left them under her bed for several years, finally selling them to a museum for $100. I am trying to find the name of the museum. The story was told on the History Channel, but I did not get the name of the museum and location. I live approximately 5 miles from where the quints were born and died.
ANSWER: The mummified bodies of the Lyon quintuplets were given to the Army Medical Museum in Washington DC--it has since been renamed the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. The accession number for the infants is 43411. There are two (brief) sources of information: Aufderheide's The Scientific Study of Mummies and Quigley's Modern Mummes. Both books have the same photo; the quality of the photo in Aufderheide's is better; the information in Quigley's is more detailed. Good luck with your research!
UPDATE: A relative of the family, RJ, wrote with further information about the quintuplets: The children of Oscar and Elizabeth Campbell Lyon, they were named Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul and were born April 29, 1896. According to RJ, they "were not the first set of quintuplets born in the US as the first set was born in 1875. However, these were the first set of quintuplets that were born all male and all normal/average birth weight and all lived for several days/weeks. (The first set born in 1875 were all males, but one was stillborn and each only lived a few minutes/hrs. after birth, and their total weight was only about 10 lbs.)
RJ continues, "Many have always said that the babies would have lived had they not been 'wooled to death'. Oscar and Elizabeth Lyon lived near the railroad tracks in/near Mayfield, KY. Hundreds of people upon hearing of the multiple births soon became spectators and the train would even make a special stop @ the Lyon household/farm. So, as a result, the children were handled way too much for newborn infants and no telling what they contracted as a result. If born in today's world with modern standards/technology, each weighing in at 5+ lbs at birth and all healthy, with a lot of TLC, they would probably live to maturity.... The babies were heavily embalmed by an undertaker in/near Paducah KY, causing their mummified state."
Elasticity of Mummies?
QUESTION from Linda: I have been avidly reading your website, as well as the numerous, helpful links you have provided. Thank you very much for this great information! I have been unable to find any discussions, either on the internet or in the books on loan from my local library, about the degree of pliability or stiffness of a mummy. Before X-Ray technology, the study of mummies required that the body be unwrapped and samples taken of skin, hair, etc. My question is how elastic is a mummy? Can you move an arm joint or bend/unbend a finger? Or is the body so stiff that an attempt to change the position of the hand causes it to break? Also, does this pliability relate to the age of the mummy? Would a newer mummy bend easily, an older one hardly at all, and very old mummies not bend at all?
ANSWER: Thanks for writing, Linda. I'm glad my website was able to help you. Now for your question: mummies range in elasticity. Mostly, it depends on the manner of mummification more than anything else. For example, Egyptian mummies were dried; therefore, they are quite brittle when found. Bog bodies, on the other hand, were immersed in water for up to a few thousand years. This bath allowed the bodies of these accidental mummies to remain flexible (their bones often decalcified); when they were discovered, their limbs were so pliable that plaster casts of the bodies had to be made to make sure that (after study) they were returned to the original position in which they were found.. I'm glad my website was able to help you. Now for your question: mummies range in elasticity. Mostly, it depends on the manner of mummification more than anything else. For example, Egyptian mummies were dried; therefore, they are quite brittle when found. Bog bodies, on the other hand, were immersed in water for up to a few thousand years. This bath allowed the bodies of these accidental mummies to remain flexible (their bones often decalcified); when they were discovered, their limbs were so pliable that plaster casts of the bodies had to be made to make sure that (after study) they were returned to the original position in which they were found.
QUESTION from Rebecca: I have enjoyed your website a lot. I have tried to obtain information about the tomb of the Marquess of Tai (Hsin Chui). She is considered the best preserved mummy at the present. She is from the Han period, 2000 years old. Her tomb is considered like King Tut's in China. All my inquiries on the Internet were in vain, and I was a little disappointed when I did not find any information about her on your site. Please let me know if you have any information about her on your site.
ANSWER: You're right, I don't have any information about her on my site--and she is a very interesting mummy. She is sometimes called Lady Dai (so you might try researching this spelling). A new book for older children (and also perfect for adults) covers the discovery and the analysis. The book is called At Home in Her Tomb, and I highly recommend it.
QUESTION from R: I recently watched a program about mummies.The most interesting bit of information was that the popes of the Catholic Church are mummified as the catholic religion is the only other group to believe in resurrection as the Egyptians did. Being raised a Catholic, this struck me as odd. I have not been able to find any other information on the subject. If you could point me in the right direction or provide information it would be greatly appreciated.
ANSWER: I didn't see the program but I've had a number of enquiries lately about Catholic mummies. You will want to find a copy of the book Modern Mummies by Christine Quigley and Deaths of the Popes by Wendy Reardon.
Princess Fawn Hoof
QUESTION from Heather: I recently visited Short Cave in Park City, Kentucky. This is a privately owned cave but on the tour it was mentioned that an Indian mummy had been found in this cave. Her name was Princess Fawn Hoof. I have no other information. If you have any information or can tell me where to look for information I would greatly appreciate it.
ANSWER: The only written information I can find is in a book entitled Prehistoric Mummies from the Mammoth Cave Area, edited by Angelo I. George
A brief history according to George's book: the mummy was found in Short Cave in September 1811, was named Fawn Hoof in 1853, was exhibited at two world's fairs (1876 and 1893), was given to the Smithsonian Institution in 1876, and was later dissected and "her bones stored in a box out of public view." I do not know if the Smithsonian still has her bones in its back rooms or if they have been repatriated to a tribe of Native Americans for reburial...but it would be interesting to find out. You will find more details in the George book.
QUESTION from Calvin: My sister told me that North Carolina (where I live) is the home of soap mummies. She told me that the proper equation was an obese person, the soil of the Piedmont area, proper moisture, the person to have been in clothes and either no coffin or perhaps a primitive coffin. She said that with the humidity here and all those other ingredients that the people literally turned into soap and were mummified. Is this true? I've tried to look it up but have not been successful. Thanks again.
ANSWER: I don't know if North Carolina is the real home of soap mummies--they have been found many places. They are mummies that have been produced by the formation of adipocere. According to Christine Quigley's Modern Mummies, "adipocere is a waxy or greasy decomposition product resulting from chemical changes in soft tissues under conditions of high humidity and high environmental temperature"--like NC in the summer? These mummies have been found in other places too including underwater. According to scientists, fatty acids combine with sodium to form "hard soap" (quite crumbly)--later potassium can be added to the mix and turn the hard soap into "soft soap" (more like toothpaste). Some adipocere mummies look pretty good (though not like artificially-made mummies in Egypt or South America), but most are pretty gross. Quigley's book includes one photo on page 23.
QUESTION from D: I'm a student at Western Washington University, I was doing some internet research looking for information on mummies.I'm doing a paper for my Anthropology class my subject for the paper is "Bodies were Mummified for Reasons other than Status," at least something close to those lines. I was wondering if there was any information you could give me. Your web site was very informative.
ANSWER: The mummies you want to research are the Chinchorros--they did not appear to mummify based on status. Many of their mummies were children. On that page you will find information on a few books that cover the Chinchorros, but the best is one by Bernardo Arriaza: Beyond Death.