The Amazing Mummies of Guanajuato – Mexico
Guanajuato’s Museo de las Momias (Mummies Museum) is famed all over Mexico. People flock there daily in busloads and tour vans to glimpse the eerie human corpses on display.
Of course the museum was on my list of things to do in Guanajuato when I visited the hilly town in central Mexico. I figured the mummies would be an interesting diversion. But I had no idea how truly fascinating they would be.
My first surprise was to find all the mummies standing in upright positions in long glass cases lining several narrow rooms inside the museum. I just assumed they’d be laying down, like I’ve seen photos of Egyptian mummies.
Once I started looking at the mummies, I was even more surprised to find several of them ‘frozen’ with grotesque facial expressions, as if they’d died in incredible agony. Whoa! That took some time to process.
Upon closer inspection of the corpses I got the biggest surprises of all. The bodies are preserved in explicit, fine detail.
I could clearly see lips, eye lids, eye lashes, body hair and even genitals in tact! (albeit dried and shriveled like freeze-dried fruit) Some mummies are still wearing bits of clothes or shoes, also intact.
Each mummy is as distinctive as every living human being: their faces, heights and body types. I could discern formerly fat people as their mummified remains had huge amounts of skin, preserved in rounded shapes.
Most of the mummies have full skins, but a few have massively broken skin at an arm or leg, sometimes all the way down to the bone, in which case the bone is clearly visible.
In total, Museo de las Momias has nearly 100 mummies on display in glass cases. Most are adults, but several baby mummies are also there, each laying in its own little glass case, fully dressed.
The world’s smallest mummy also resides at Guanajuato’s museum. It’s a 7-month-old fetus that didn’t quite make it. However, it was old enough to become a fully-formed human baby. It rests beside its mother in a center museum case.
After I examined dozens of mummified bodies in slow detail, especially those with horror-ridden faces, I couldn’t help but wonder where the heck all these mummies came from. Had they been murdered? Died of horrible accidents or painful illnesses? And why were they here in Guanajuato, Mexico? Why and how had these bodies been preserved as mummies rather than decayed like normal corpses?
As it turns out, the mummies were all discovered by accident in fairly recent history – starting in the late 1800s. By 1865 Guanajuato’s cemeteries had become completely full. In order to accommodate new corpses, they set about digging up the previous cemetery occupants! There they discovered mummified bodies rather than skeletons resting in the graves!
So they placed the mummies in underground catacombs, resting in standing up positions lining the catacomb walls.
In the 1960s another grave exhuming revealed even more mummified remains. These were added to the earlier mummies resting in catacombs. Eventually someone decided to make a museum displaying the mummies, and the Museo de las Momias was born.
Amazingly, without any human intention or preservation techniques the bodies buried in Guanajuato soil became mummies instead of skeletons. It’s the result of Guanajuato’s arid climate and mineral-laden earth, particularly high levels of lime and clay.
Today, the mummies’ glass cases are carefully climate controlled, keeping humidity at about 20% and temperature at about 25C/75F.
Guanajuato’s mummies are not only famous in Mexico. They are also famous internationally, particularly a few special specimens such as the world’s smallest mummy, the world’s best preserved mummy (no lacerations in the skin) and an Asian female mummy. These renowned mummies are sometimes requested to go ‘on tour’ to be displayed in other countries around the world.
All in all, my visit to Museo de Momias was a truly fascinating and educational experience. It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Guanajuato.
So if you ever find yourself in central Mexico, make a point to visit this museum.
In addition, Guanajuato town is an amazing place, full of other unique points of interest such as subterranean streets in the middle of town, renowned silver mines, famous Mexican artists’ museums, incredible architecture, evening street performances and a whole slew of annual art/music/film festivals.
In fact, Guanajuato is one of the coolest, most interesting towns I’ve ever visited in 20 years of travels! I wrote more about Guanajuato here.
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