"Accidental" Mummies on Display in Mexico

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"They were accidental mummies, nobody mummified them on purpose," Beckett said.

Bodies from a middle row of tombs, untainted by even the rare moisture from rain or groundwater, were most likely to become mummified, he said. Because mummification was unintentional, the mummies represent a broad social spectrum of the community. In societies that practiced ceremonial mummification, typically only the powerful and wealthy citizens were mummified.

The Guanajuato mummies have inspired local legends and life and death tales abound.

One is billed by the local museum as the world's smallest mummy. The infant is thought to have been born by cesarean section. Neither the infant nor the mother survived the procedure, and they were buried and naturally mummified together. They remain together still, now in the town's mummy museum.

Another fascinating legend concerns the mummy of a woman who locals believe was buried alive. Beckett and Conlogue focused their investigation on ascertaining the validity of this disturbing oral tradition. It is said by the locals that she was found turned over, as if she had tried to push up the tomb lid with her back.

Beckett and Conlogue could not document how her body was found prior to removal, but they did find other clues to her fate.

"We've seen a lot of mummies," Beckett said, "and she gave us the most evidence to suggest that the story might be accurate." One important clue was the burial position, which in typical interments of the time and location featured the arms crossed over the chest. In this case, the woman's arms were raised up over her face.

Also present were clearly defined fingernail scratch marks on her forehead. These clues suggest the woman may indeed have been buried alive, but further investigations could perhaps close the case.

"We need to go back and do a fingernail scrape," Beckett said, "and see what's under her nails."

While the television team's investigations sometimes lend support to local legends, at other times they disprove them.

One Guanajuato mummy was believed to have been hanged, but his body told a different story. The mummy's trachea was intact, unusual for a hanging, and the neck vertebrae showed none of the trauma associated with a hanging. While his true story remains unknown, it did not conclude at the end of a rope.

Around the world, many mummies lie patiently waiting to share the secrets of past eras. It's an exciting prospect for Beckett and Conlogue, who plan to keep The Mummy Road Show rolling along.

"We'll never run out of mummies," Beckett said, "and as long as we can keep adding to our knowledge of people of the past, we'll never be out of work."

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