M.u.r.d.e.r And Peculiar Burials: The Natural Mommmies Of Gebelein

Mummification, commonly used in Egypt, was done intentionally in order to preserve the dead body. However, in 1896, an Egyptologist found six naturally mummified predynastic bodies.

Found during excavations at Gebelein, a desert city in Egypt, the mummies date to approximately 3400 BC. The six bodies were excavated from shallow sand tombs by Wallis Budge, the Keeper of the British Museum of Egyptology.

The mummy nicknamed Ginger

Of the six people, two were identified as male — given the names Ginger and Gebelein Man — one as female, and the other three were not gender-determined. All were given to the British Museum in 1900.

Among the mummies found by Budge, three had different coverings on their bodies, such as reed mat, palm fiber and animal skin. Each was discovered in the fetal position, a common configuration in Egypt at the time.

Mummy of the Man of Gebelein with preserved hair

The state in which the six people were found was due to the way of burying the dead in the pre-dynastic period. At that time, bodies were buried naked and loosely wrapped.

This caused the corpse’s water to evaporate when it came into contact with the hot sand. Thus, without water, the body was dry and preserved. The method was widely used in Egypt until artificial mummification was developed years later.

In the tombs of the Gebelein mummies, goods belonging to the dead, such as pots and flint, were also found. The objects, however, were not sent to the British Museum along with the bodies and their whereabouts are unknown.

Many other artifacts found at the site were traded on the antiquities market and can be found in museums in Turin, Cairo, Berlin and Lyons. Even more: the site’s structure houses remnants of a time of the Hathor deity, with mud bricks and decorations from the 2nd and 3rd dynasties.

Model of boat found next to the mummies, dating from 3400 to 3200 BC

In November 2012, a clue about one of the bodies surfaced. According to a CT scan performed at Cromwell Hospital, the mummy known as the Gebelein Man had likely been murdered.

The scan indicated a perforation under the man’s left shoulder blade, who was between 18 and 20 years old and well-muscled. Forensics determined that the murder weapon—used with great force—slightly damaged the shoulder blade, broke the rib below, and penetrated the victim’s lung.

While some information about each body has been identified — such as the red hair color of the mummy named Ginger — little is known about who these people were in life. Even so, the six mummies can be seen on display at the British Museum.

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