Saturday, August 16, 2008

Ana Mummiya

So, I was surfing around the internet and was somehow reminded , probably by this, of the amazing mummies of the Han Dynasty in Hunan Province, China. (This is appropriate for the olympics? Right? Right?), and I got to surfing around the internet, looking for these interesting time-capsules from the past, and what they teach us about what life and also technology was like thousands (or hundreds) of years ago.
This is Xi Zhui, Marquess of Dai. (Stole the picture from here. Check it out for an even more disturbing picture of her face.) She's about 2,000 years old--she lived during the Han Dynasty in modern Hunan province. She's an obese, middle aged matriarch who outlived both her husband and son, but her dotage was not at all healthy. She had a fused disc in her spine, a few intestinal parasites, a blockage in her gall bladder, and severely clogged arteries, which caused her death of a massive heart attack shortly after enjoying a meal. We know this because due to an apparent fluke of nature, Lady Dai has been almost perfectly preserved, enough so that after her discovery in 1971, doctors were able to perform an autopsy on her body. She had just eaten some bitter melon. (Click for an interesting discussion of what Han aristocrats ate, based around the meal provided in Lady Dai's tomb.)
It is not known exactly how lady Dai was preserved. Since her tomb was opened by construction workers in the process of digging an air raid shelter, initial reports on the condition inside are limited to hearsay. Some sources say she was immersed in an acidic substance, perhaps Mercury Sulfide. It is likely that as a complete fluke, (link is a debate on how she was preserved) her tomb was sealed airtight, preserving both Lady Dai and her funerary banquet. Evidence points to a fairly limited knowledge of mummification by the Han Chinese, who believed that encasing a body in Jade would preserve it.
Anyone who works in a lab knows how difficult it is to get a fully airtight seal, so it's an even more amazing coincidence that in 2002, another mummy was found in Hunan province. This lady was partially submerged in a yet unknown liquid. Her name was Huiping Lin.
It blows my mind, by the way, that we still don't know what these mystery chemicals are. I mean, it would take a few hours, maybe a day to do a mass spectrometer analysis on them. WTF?
Anyway, I couldn't find much information on Lin, and no one on flickr has any pictures of her although she's supposedly on display. If anyone sees anything, please post it!

Addendum: I just found this chronicle of Lin's Autopsy! Pretty cool stuff there!

1 comment:

bioephemera said...

Yuck! Double yuck! I knew nothing about this. . . and I'm not sure I WANTED to see that photo of Lin's face at 1am right before going to bed.