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 21 of the world’s best-preserved bodies that will astound you to the core.
1 | Rosalia Lombardo
Rosalia Lombardo was an Italian child born in 1918 in Palermo, Sicily. She died of pneumonia on December 6, 1920. Her father was so grief-stricken that he had her body embalmed to preserve her. Rosalia’s body was one of the last corpses to be admitted to the Capuchin catacombs of Palermo in Sicily, where it is kept in a small chapel encased in a glass-covered coffin.
Nicknamed the “Sleeping Beauty”, Rosalia Lombardo has gained the reputation of being one of the world’s best preserved mummies. She is also known as the “Blinking Mummy” for her half open eyelids in some photos. Scholars believe that Rosalia’s blinking eyes is an optical illusion caused by the angle at which the light from the windows strike her.
2 | La Doncella – Inca Maiden
La Doncella was found in 1999 in an icy pit at the summit of Mount Llullaillaco, a volcano in north-west Argentina on the border with Chile. She was aged 15 when she was sacrificed to the Inca gods, along with a younger boy and girl. DNA tests revealed that they were unrelated, and CT scans showed that they were well-nourished and had no broken bones or other injuries, although La Doncella had sinusitis and a lung infection.
Before being chosen as sacrificial victims, the children spent much of their lives eating a typical peasant diet composed primarily of vegetables, such as potatoes. Their diet then changed markedly in the 12 months up to their deaths when they started to receive maize, a luxury food, and dried llama meat. A further change in their lifestyle about 3-4 months before they died, suggests that is when they began their pilgrimage to the volcano, probably from the Inca capital, Cuzco.
They were taken to the summit of Llullaillaco, drugged with maize beer and coca leaves, and, once asleep, placed in underground niches. La Doncella was found sitting cross-legged in her brown dress and striped sandals, with bits of coca leaf still clinging to her upper lip, and a crease in one cheek where it leaned against her shawl as she slept. At such a high altitude, it would not have taken long for her to die from exposure.
3 | The Inuit Baby
The Inuit baby was part of a group of 8 mummies (6 women and 2 children) found in 1972 at a gravesite near the former coastal settlement of Qilakitsoq, a desolate area of Greenland. The graves were dated to 1475 AD. One of the women had a malignant tumour near the base of her skull which most likely caused her death.
The Inuit baby, a boy aged about 6 months old, appeared to have been buried alive with her. The Inuit custom at that time dictated that the child be buried alive or suffocated by its father if a woman could not be found to nurse it. The Inuit believed that the child and its mother would travel to the land of the dead together.
4 | 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 to try to determine the cause of death, archaeologists and researchers 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.
5 | Xin Zhui – Lady Dai
Xin Zhui was the wife of the Marquis of Han and died near the city of Changsha in China around 178 BC, when she was around 50 years old. She was found in 1971 in an enormous Han Dynasty-era tomb more than 50 feet below the earth containing over 1,000 well-preserved artifacts.
She was tightly wrapped in 22 dresses of silk and hemp and 9 silk ribbons, and was buried in four coffins, each inside the other. Her body was so well-preserved that it was autopsied as if recently dead. Her skin was supple, her limbs could be manipulated, her hair and internal organs were intact. The remains of her last meal were found in her stomach, and type A blood still ran red in her veins.
Examinations have revealed that she suffered from parasites, lower back pain, clogged arteries, had a massively damaged heart ― an indication of heart disease brought on by obesity ― and was overweight at the time of her death. Read More
6 | Grauballe Man
The Grauballe Man lived during the late 3rd century BC on the Jutland Peninsula in Denmark. His body was discovered in 1952 in a peat bog near to the village of Grauballe. He was around 30 years old, 5 ft 9 in tall, and entirely naked when he died.
The Grauballe Man had dark hair, altered by the bog to a reddish colour, and stubble on his chin. His hands were smooth and did not show evidence of hard labour such as farming. His teeth and jaws indicated that he had suffered periods of starvation, or poor health during his early childhood. He also suffered arthritis in his spine.
His last meal, eaten right before his death, consisted of porridge or gruel made from corn, seeds from over 60 different herbs, and grasses, with traces of the poisonous fungi, ergot. The ergot in his system would have induced painful symptoms, such as convulsions and a burning sensation in the mouth, hands, and feet; it may also have induced hallucinations or even a coma.
The Grauballe Man was killed by having his neck cut open, ear to ear, severing his trachea and esophagus, in either a public execution, or as a human sacrifice connected to Iron Age Germanic paganism.
7 | Tollund Man
Like the Grauballe Man, the Tollund Man lived during the 4th century BC on the Jutland Peninsula in Denmark. He was found in 1950, buried in a peat bog. At the time of death, he was around 40 years old and 5 ft 3 in tall. His body was in a fetal position.
The Tollund Man wore a pointed skin cap made of sheepskin and wool, fastened under his chin, and a smooth hide belt around his waist. A noose made of plaited animal hide was drawn tight around his neck, trailing down his back. Other than these, his body was naked.
His hair was cropped short and there was short stubble on his chin and upper lip, suggesting that he had not shaved on the day of his death. His last meal had been a kind of porridge made from vegetables and seeds, and he lived for 12 to 24 hours after eating it. He died by hanging rather than strangulation.
8 | Ur-David – The Cherchen Man
Ur-David is part of a group of mummies, discovered at the beginning of the 20th century in the Tarim Basin in present-day Xinjiang, China, which date from 1900 BC to 200 AD. Ur-David was tall, red-haired, basically of a European appearance and a likely speaker of an Indo-European language.
Y-DNA analysis showed that he was Haplogroup R1a, characteristic of western Eurasia. He was wearing a red twill tunic and tartan leggings when he died around 1,000 BC, probably at the same time as his 1-year-old baby son.
9 | The Beauty Of Loulan
The Beauty of Loulan is the most famous of the Tarim mummies, along with the Cherchen Man. She was discovered in 1980 by Chinese archaeologists working on a film about the Silk Road. The mummy was discovered near Lop Nur. She was buried 3 feet beneath the ground.
The mummy was extremely well preserved because of the dry climate and the preservative properties of salt. She was wrapped in a woolen cloth. The Beauty of Loulan was surrounded by funerary gifts.
The Beauty of Loulan lived around 1,800 BC, until about the age of 45, when she died. Her cause of death is likely due to lung failure from ingesting a large amount of sand, charcoal, and dust. She probably died in the winter. The rough shape of her clothes and the lice in her hair suggest she lived a difficult life.
10 | Tocharian Female
Like Ur-David and Loulan Beauty, this Tocharian female is a Tarim Basin mummy who lived around 1,000 BC. She was tall, with a high nose and long flaxen blond hair, perfectly preserved in ponytails. The weave of her clothing appears similar to Celtic cloth. She was around 40 years old when she died.
11 | Evita Peron
Argentinian politician Evita Peron’s body disappeared three years after her death in 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.”
12 | Tutankhamun
Tutankhamun is the most famous Egyptian pharaoh who lived approximately from 1341 BC to 1323 BC. The 1922 discovery of his nearly intact tomb received worldwide press coverage. He was slightly built, roughly 5ft 11in tall and appeared to be aged 19 at the time of his death.
DNA tests showed that Tutankhamun was the result of an incestuous relationship. His father was Akhenaten and his mother was one of Akhenaten’s five sisters. Though the exact cause of Tutankhamun’s early death is unknown, it is believed that several genetic defects, caused by inbreeding, were the reasons behind his tragic end.
King Tutankhamun, known as Egypt’s boy pharaoh, probably spent much of his life in pain before dying of the combined effects of malaria and a broken leg, which became seriously infected. Tut also had a cleft palate and a curved spine, and was probably weakened by inflammation and problems with his immune system.
King Tut was buried with two mummified fetuses who were probably his two stillborn children with wife (and half-sister) Ankhesenamun.
13 | Ramesses The Great
Ramesses II, also known as Ramesses the Great, was the third pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt. He is often regarded as the greatest, most celebrated, and most powerful pharaoh of the New Kingdom, itself the most powerful period of Ancient Egypt. His successors and later Egyptians called him the “Great Ancestor”.
Rameses the Great was 90 years old when he died in 1213 BC. By the time of his death, Ramesses was suffering from severe dental problems and was plagued by arthritis and hardening of the arteries. He had made Egypt rich from all the supplies and riches he had collected from other empires. He had outlived many of his wives and children and left great memorials all over Egypt. Nine more pharaohs took the name Ramesses in his honour.
14 | Ramesses III
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 Ramesses III was murdered by his sons in 1,155 BC. However, today his mummy is considered to be one of the best-preserved mummies in Egyptian history.
15 | Dashi Dorzho Itigilov
Dashi Dorzho Itigilov was a Russian Buddhist lama monk who died mid-chant in the lotus position in 1927. His last testament was a simple request to be buried how he was found. Almost two decades later in 1955, the monks exhumed his body and discovered it to be incorrupt.
16 | Clonycavan Man
Clonycavan Man is the name given to a well-preserved Iron Age bog body found in Clonycavan, Ballivor, County Meath, Ireland in March 2003. Only his upper torso and head survived, and the body shows signs of having been murdered.
The remains were radiocarbon dated to between 392 BC and 201 BC and, unusually, his hair was spiked with pine resin, a very early form of hair gel. Furthermore, the trees from which the resin was sourced only grow in Spain and southwest France, indicating the presence of long distance trade routes.
17 | 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.
18 | Ötzi The Iceman
Ötzi the Iceman lived about 3,300 BC and was found in 1991, frozen in a glacier in the Ötztal Alps, on the border between Austria and Italy. He is Europe’s oldest natural human mummy and has been extensively examined by scientists. At the time of his death, Ötzi was approximately 5 ft 5 in tall, weighed about 110 lb and was about 45 years of age.
Ötzi died a violent death. He had an arrowhead lodged in his left shoulder, though the arrow’s shaft had been removed before death. He also had bruises and cuts to the hands, wrists and chest, and a blow to the head which probably caused his death. One of the cuts to the base of his thumb reached down to the bone.
DNA analysis apparently revealed traces of blood from four other people on Ötzi’s gear: one on his knife, two from the same arrowhead, and a fourth from his coat. Ötzi may have killed two people with the same arrow, retrieving it on both occasions, and the blood on his coat may be from a wounded comrade he carried over his back, suggesting that he was part of a group that was out of his home territory ― perhaps an armed raiding party involved in a skirmish with a neighbouring tribe. Read More
19 | St. Bernadette
St. Bernadette was born a miller’s daughter in 1844 in Lourdes, France. Throughout her life, she reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary on an almost daily basis. One such a vision lead her to discover a spring which has been reported to cure illness. 150 years later, miracles are still being reported. Bernadette died at the age of 35 from tuberculosis in 1879. During canonization, her body was exhumed in 1909 and was discovered incorrupt.
20 | The Beauty of Xiaohe
In 2003, archeologists excavating China’s Xiaohe Mudi Graveyards discovered a cache of mummies, including one that would become known as the Beauty of Xiaohe. Her hair, skin and even eyelashes were perfectly preserved. The woman’s natural beauty is evident even after four millennia.
21 | 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”.
Life can be stopped and restarted if its basic structure is preserved. Human embryos are routinely preserved for years at temperatures that completely stop the chemistry of life. Adult humans have survived cooling to temperatures that stop the heart, brain, and all other organs from functioning for up to an hour.
Cryonics is the low-temperature freezing (usually at −196 °C or −320.8 °F) and storage of a human corpse or severed head, with the speculative hope that resurrection may be possible in the future. As of 2014, about 250 corpses have been cryogenically preserved in the United States, and around 1,500 people have signed up to have their remains preserved. As of 2016, four facilities exist in the world to retain cryopreserved bodies: three in the United States and one in Russia.