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Keywords:

  • paleopathology;
  • bog bodies;
  • mummified tissue;
  • mortuary practices

Abstract

Mummies are human remains with preservation of nonbony tissue. Mummification by natural influences results in so-called natural mummies, whereas mummification induced by active (human) intervention results in so-called artificial mummies, although many cultures practiced burial rites, which to some degree involved both natural and artificial mummification. Since they are so uniquely well-preserved, mummies may give many insights into mortuary practices and burial rites. Specifically, the presence of soft tissues may expand the scope of paleopathological studies. Many recent mummy studies focus on the development and application of nondestructive methods for examining mummies, including radiography, CT-scanning with advanced three-dimensional visualizations, and endoscopic techniques, as well as minimally-destructive chemical, physical, and biological methods for, e.g., stable isotopes, trace metals, and DNA. This article discusses mummification and gives a presentation of various key mummy finds and a brief history of mummy studies. A description of the extant key technologies of natural and medical science that are applied in mummy studies is given; along with a discussion of some of the major results in terms of paleopathology. It is also shown how mummy studies have contributed much to the knowledge of the cultural habits and everyday life of past populations. Finally the impact of mummy studies on analyses of mortuary practices and cultural history is discussed. Yrbk Phys Anthropol 50:162–190, 2007. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.