Human beings have always had a morbid fascination with death. Something about life, or rather what comes after it, seems to affect us in ways we cannot quite comprehend. Could it be because death reminds us of the transient nature of everything – and especially ours, that we are compelled to study it so closely? Here is a list of 12 of the world’s best preserved bodies that will launch you into an existential crisis.
1. Juanita, the Ice Maiden
Sacrificed by the Inca priests to their Gods as appeasement, 14-year-old Juanita the “Ice Maiden” remained frozen in a volcano’s crater for nearly five centuries. In 1995, archaeologists Jon Reinhard and his climbing partner Miguel Zarate unearthed her body at the base of Peru’s Mt.Ampato. Lauded as one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the time, the body (estimated to be around 500 years old) remained remarkably intact and survived the ages in spectacular fashion.(source)
2. Vladimir Lenin
Resting in the heart of Moscow’s Red Square is the most spectacularly preserved mummy you will ever find – Vladimir Lenin’s. Following the Soviet leader’s untimely death in 1924, Russian embalmers channelled the collective wisdom of the centuries in order to breathe life into this dead man.
The organs were removed and replaced with a humidifier and a pumping system was installed to maintain the body’s core temperature and fluid intake. Lenin’s mummy has remained horrifyingly lifelike to this day; in fact, it even continues to “improve with age”.(1,2)
3. The Franklin Expedition Mummies
Hoping to find the legendary Northwest Passage – a trade route to the Orient, a hundred men set sail to the New World on two ships. They neither reached their destination nor returned home, and history was quick to forget them. Five years later, an expedition to the Beechey Island revealed the remains of a long-dead community, and among them a triad of mysterious graves – those of John Torrington, John Hartnell and William Braine.
When the bodies were exhumed and examined nearly a century later in 1984, archaeologists were taken aback by the outstanding degree to which they remained unscathed. They later attributed it to the tundra’s permafrost and were able to accurately determine the age of the mummies – a staggering 138 years.(source)
4. Evita Peron
Argentinian politician Evita Peron’s body disappeared three years after her death 1952, right when her husband President Juan Peron was deposed. As it was later revealed, Anti-Peronists in the Argentinian military stole her body and sent it on an odyssey through the world that lasted nearly two decades. When it was eventually returned to ex-President Peron, Evita’s corpse had mysterious marks of injury all over. Peron’s then-wife Isabella reportedly had a strange fascination with Evita – she perched her corpse at their kitchen table, combed her hair every day with the utmost reverence and even climbed into the coffin from time to time when she needed to “soak up her magic vibrations”.(1,2)
5. La Doncella
This 15-year-old girl was drugged with chicha and coca leaves and left to die as an offering to the deities by the Inca. There she remained frozen in a cross-legged position until her discovery in 1999.
Archaeologists had found two other girls with her, perched high on Mt.Llullaillaco. They had awoken from slumber nearly 500 years later, with all their clothes and hair intact. La Doncella’s body has contributed much to our understanding of the Inca way of life.(source)
6. Lady Xin Zhui
Wife of the Marquis of Dai during the Han Dynasty, Lady Dai’s 2100-year-old mummy lived on in obscurity until its recent discovery. Her body was so excellently preserved that an autopsy was possible. Doctors were stunned at how put-together she was, despite being dead for a silly long time. The brain was intact, her limbs were bendable and she even had Type-A blood in her veins! “Diva Dai’, as dubbed by her admirers, is the undisputed champion of mummies in the world. She is the single most well-preserved ancient human being archaeologists have ever found.(source)
7. Ötzi The Iceman
Discovered in the Schnalstal glacier by Italian hikers in 1991, this 5000-year-old mummy has an arrow embedded in its chest. Nicknamed after the Ötztal Alps where he was found, the well-preserved body actually belongs to a man who lived 53 centuries ago.
Oetzi rests in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in northern Italy today and holds the title of Europe’s oldest natural human mummy.(source)
8. Ramesses the Great
Undisputedly the most enigmatic of all the Egyptian mummies, Ramesses III sparked intense debate on the circumstances of his death in the scientific community. After a lot of careful prodding and probing, it was discovered that he was one of Egypt’s greatest Pharaohs during the 20th dynasty. Based on the 7-centimetre deep cut found on his throat, historians speculated that he was murdered by his sons.(1,2)
9. Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov
This Russian Buddhist monk left his mortal coil in 1927 while in deep meditation. As was his wish, his students and fellow monks buried him the way he died – sitting upright in the lotus position. Years later when the body was exhumed and removed from its pine encasement, it was found to be well-preserved and still the way it had been left. Itigilov was eventually re-interred in a salt coffin.
Forensic analyses revealed that the cells in the monk’s body more closely resembled those of someone who had been dead only for 36 hours, not 100 years.(source)
10. Tollund Man
This 2000-year-old body of a hanging victim is among the oldest of the dead the world has seen. Discovered in 1950 by Jutland farmers in the Danish Peninsula, his body looked so fresh that he was mistaken for a recent murder victim, not a man who belonged to the Pre-Iron Age.
A final autopsy revealed rope marks around his neck, concluding that he had been hung to death – a common occurrence in the area. Remains of vegetables and wild seeds were found in his stomach, which were probably the contents of the Tollund Man’s last meal.(source)
11. The Ukok Princess
This 2500-year-old body of a Siberian tribe-woman was discovered in 1993 amidst those of six horses’. Although it had not weathered the elements particularly well, the intricate web of tattoos on her skin drew massive interest and admiration.
The Ukok Princess likely belonged to the Pazyryk tribe who believed that painting elaborate designs on the body would help the dead to find others in the afterlife. The horses were an integral part of this as well, as they were thought to escort the dead safely to the other side.(1,2)
12. George Mallory
Attempting to scale the Mt.Everest is not an easy task – especially in 1924. George Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew Irving were determined to do just that, inadvertently casting themselves as history’s lost pioneers. 800 feet below the summit was the last time they were seen alive – and never again until 75 years later. The expedition launched by NOVA-BBC found their bodies in a few hours, perfectly preserved except for the wear and tear on their clothes. Doctors later confirmed that the two men were tied together by a single rope and met their tragic fates when one of them fell.(1,2)
13. Rosalia Lombardo
Italian embalmer Alfredo Salafia is remembered by history as the man who breathed life back into this little girl’s corpse. Sleeping Beauty, as she came to be called, rests in a little glass coffin deep in the Capuchin Monk Catacombs of Italy. When she breathed her last in 1920, General Lombardo was so undone by grief that he decided he would not part his daughter’s remains no matter what it took. The result can be seen to this day, as the world has not seen the likes of little Rosalia’s corpse.(source)
14. The Wet Mummy
This Ming dynasty mummy was found in a water-logged coffin on a construction site in China in 2011! Researchers speculated that she had been submerged for nearly 600 years, making her body ultra-resistant to the terrestrial elements that would normally have decayed it.
Among other things, she was buried with a large jade ring on her finger, a silver hairpin and an exorcism coin to ward off evil spirits.(source)
15. Saltmen of Iran
The corpses of six salt-miners were discovered from 1993-2008 in Iran’s Chehrabad salt mines. Killed accidentally under the massive weight of the galleries they were working in, these bodies were surprisingly well preserved due to the salt content in the ground.
Researchers determined through carbon dating that these men were alive 1,700 years ago and one of them even had type-B+ blood!(source)