It’s said nothing lasts forever. After we leave our mortal coil, we will be but dust upon this earth — leaving no memorial to our time once spent. Right?
Not quite. It’s entirely possible and refreshingly inexpensive to leave a lasting monument to your lifetime’s worth of achievements before you die. And you don’t even need to lift a finger. Welcome to the world of accidental mummification. Creepy, yet strangely compelling (especially in these cases).
The science behind mummification, both intentional and accidental, is really quite simple. It involves preventing decay of a body and inhibiting growth of micro-organisms. All the five methods described below do this by somehow creating a hostile environment for both bacteria and fungi, which deprives them of either the oxygen, temperature or food source they need to make your mortal remains bite the dust.
1. “Corpse Paint” is no longer just for goths.
We’re referring to the build up of what is commonly referred to as grave wax. This is caused by the bacterial hydrolysis of fat in organic tissue. In wet and oxygen poor environments, the action of bacteria on body fats works to produce a waxy layer that effectively coats the skin and the muscle tissue, preventing further decomposition taking place, and preserving the body, often for long periods of time.
2. Get bogged down in your work.
If you’ve been sucked into some type of bog or marshland, you’ll find out fairly quickly that there’s enough organic debris and water to create an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment. This prevents bacterial build up as the bulk of bacteria require oxygen in the air in order to grow. You can stay preserved like this for centuries; a fine example of bog preservation of human remains exists in the British Museum.
3. Getting the chills.
Another method of mummification involves extreme cold (think: the preserved Ice Men). Think you might want to see another century? This is probably the best way to go about it. A renown ed example of this is Ötzi the ice man, a natural mummy found in the Alps, who was thought to have lived around 5,300 years ago. This method relies on the combination of extreme cold and dryness to inhibit bacterial growth.
4. Feeling hot, hot, hot: pyroclastic flow.
This runs contrary to the “freezer” method, and is certainly one method not for the faint of heart. Whilst this isn’t mummification per se, it will leave a cast of your body, preserved as you died — in stone. This relies on an extremely hot cloud of gas and lava, expelled from a volcano, running you over and creating a gruesome death cast. The most famous examples of this type of preservation are to be found in Pompeii.
5. Salting: not just for snacks.
Just as extremes of cold and the lack of oxygen can create environments hostile to micro-organism growth, our final featured method of mummification involves extreme salinity – so much so that the process of osmosis means bacteria cannot physically hold sufficient water to survive on the corpse. Examples of this have been found at the Chehrabad salt mines in china.
Of course, extreme salinity means water is going to leak out from your body – this does mean you won’t leave a pretty corpse. At least you got to live fast and die young, right?
Your Turn: If you had to choose, which way would you prefer to be mummified? Are there methods of mummification you’re fascinated by which aren’t listed here? Let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear from you.