Shocking new photos show exceptionally well-preserved ‘natural mummies’ found in a Colombian tomb thought to date only 100 years ago. More than a dozen bodies are displayed in glass boxes in a mausoleum in San Bernardo, Colombia, high in the Andes and southwest of the country’s capital, Bogota.
Why they are so well preserved is a mystery, although some experts think this is due to the local climate and altitude, which can affect the chemical composition of the earth and act as a natural embalmer. However, locals think this is due to a local diet that includes the guatila, a green, spiny fruit also known as chayote. This theory does not explain why the mummies’ clothing was also preserved in good condition.
San Bernardo’s mummified bodies, belonging to people born in roughly the last 100 years, were first discovered in the 1950s, when a local cemetery was relocated due to a flood. The identities of the dead in San Bernardo are known; because on each corpse were plaques with personal statements such as ‘Margarita…she was so selfless as a housewife, she always offered everyone corncakes and coffee’.
Some relatives of the deceased on display in the mausoleum even come to see them and pay their respects. Including a man named Ever Pabon, whose father was among those on display. “Most people who lose their parents bury or burn them and never see them again,” Pabon told the Wall Street Journal in 2015. “But now that I miss him, I can see him anytime, and he looks exactly the way he was when he was alive,” she added. Mr Pabon said he visited his father every other week and had a picture of his mummified remains on the lock screen of his phone.
After being rescued from the ground, the preserved remains were first displayed to the public in 1994, turning the small Colombian town into an unusual and controversial tourist attraction. At the time, a Roman Catholic bishop said displaying mummies was a sign of disrespect for the dead.
Looking at the faces of the corpses, some have a calm expression as if they had died in peace and comfort, while others look more distorted with age. Unfortunately, some bodies belong to children, some still wear clothes and shoes, and are now displayed together in the same glass boxes.
Similar natural mummification has been seen in Guanajuato, Mexico, where the chemical composition of underground gas and soil is responsible for keeping the dead intact. However, while the dead in Guanajuato date back to the first half of the 19th century, the mummies in San Bernardo are relatively young.
Mummification involves the process of preserving the body after death by deliberate drying or embalming; however, the bodies in San Bernardo were mummified mainly by accident. As a result, it is thought that determining a definitive reason for preserving the mummies would require disturbing the corpses, and relatives probably would not.
Local residents have their own theories of mummification as if they were alive. There’s a lot of chayote or guatila in the region, a peculiar fruit that’s packed with vitamin C, has a green, prickly skin, and is used in salads, which they think is unique to the region and has health benefits.
According to the WSJ, another local vegetable they also credit for this wonderful preservation is the balu, which looks like an overly large string bean.