Thursday, May 31, 2012

Korean mummies

Due to the recent construction boom in South Korea, many cemeteries have been relocated to make room for more housing. This has resulted in the discovery of a number of bodies that were preserved unintentionally due to a special burial custom that the people in the region developed in the late 14th c. to facilitate ancestor worship. The deceased was kept on ice during a mourning period of up to 40 days, then placed inside an inner and an outer pine coffin surrounded by his or her clothing, and the coffin was covered in a lime soil mixture. "In some cases, this inadvertently resulted in extremely good natural mummification. They didn't expect mummification and, in fact, that's the one thing they wouldn't want," explains paleo-epidemiologist Mark Spigelman of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The inadvertent preservation has assisted in many studies because unlike ancient Egyptian mummies, the Korean mummies  are moist and unembalmed. At the request of Seoul National University, Spigelman has joined an international team to study the genome of the virus that causes hepatitis B - samples of which were obtained from the remains of a 500-year-old male child (1st image) - to determine if there have been any significant changes over the past 500 years. Mummies have been excavated in several small towns, among them Handong (2nd image) and Hongsung (3rd image). The wife of a government official was buried with her handbag and other important possessions (photos here). A 32-year-old mustached man named Eung-tae found buried with letters and a love poem written by his bereaved wife (read excerpts here and here), as well as slippers woven from her hair. After examination, the mummies are returned to the ancient Korean clans who administer the cemeteries for cremation or reburial in another location.
Select previous posts about mummies:

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