Tsrpmummies's Blog

03 – Mummification

The question that must be explored is: was mummification done purposefully to preserve their deceased?

The Tarim Basin has extreme temperatures, in the winter season it is tremendously cold, and in the summer season the climate is hot and dry with extreme aridity, thus bodies tend to dry out before they begin to putrefy. In combination with the high degree of salinity in the soils which terminate bacterial growth, bodies may mummify naturally. Egypt’s climate is also hot and dry and natural mummification may also occur, however the Ancient Egyptians are famous for their pyramids which enshrined their mummies.

Unlike the roughly contemporaneous mummies of ancient Egypt, the Xinjiang mummies were not rulers or nobles; they were not interred in pyramids or other such monuments, nor were they subjected to deliberate mummification procedures. They were preserved merely by being buried in the parched, stony desert, where daytime temperatures often soar over 100 degrees. In the heat the bodies were quickly dried, with facial hair, skin, and other tissues remaining largely intact.

(Hadingham, 1994)

The Ancient Egyptians have mummified corpses of their Pharaohs, unlike the Tarim Basin mummies, a special process of evisceration is used to prepare and preserve the Pharaohs’ body from decay. The source of decay is in the gut where the microorganisms that digest our foods, begins to digest the body by moving through the veins and arteries. The process of evisceration is the process of removing the internal organs before the microorganisms begin to decompose the corpse. The reason for Egyptian mummification is based on the belief that the soul/spirit still lives after death, therefore by preserving the corpse the spirit will have a place to return to.

The best preserved corpses were found in Cherchen and Loulan, they had been burried in a salt-field. These mummies also show evidence of special treatment used to help preserve the corpse.

The bodies were smeared with a yellow material, a protein of some kind, as yet unidentified. The clothes were put on over this material. It was still wet when the clothes were put back, and the skin is more supple and better preserved where it occurs.

(Barber, 1995)

Multiple chambered tombs such as those at Zaghunluq positioned the deceased on wooden planks so that the dry air could circulate over and under the entire body. This permitted more rapid evaporation of moisture…

(Mallory,2000)

The evidence of natural mummification indicates that the environment is capable of slowing down the process of decomposition, but the body has the natural tendency to bloat based on the surface-to-volume ratio and can swell to about two to three times its original size. The face swells and the mouth is left hanging wide open with the swollen tongue protruding. The bloating puts pressure on the lungs and forces a bloody fluid out of the orifices. The dwellers of the Tarim Basin were well aware of this fact and had methods of dealing with this natural action. They had two solutions to this problem, the mummies found often had special chin straps that went around their chins to the back of their heads, the straps ranged from special plaited bands, special hats/headgear that included chin straps and wool. Wool straps were not very successful because it is an expandable material and much evidence was found with mouths hanging open. In dealing with the fluids that leak out of the orifices the technique used is the same as the Ancient Egyptians, they would fill the mouth and nose with cotton or wool or other fibers to soak up the fluids.

Based on this information, could it be possible that the Xinjiang occupants also believed in a soul and after-life?

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