"It shows how drastically our conception of dealing with the dead changed at that point."
December 30, 2012 11:55 PM   Subscribe

I understand your great grandfather was a grave robber?
My family is Greek and they lived in Alexandria back when it was a Greek town. At that point there was a trade in mummy dust, which they called mummia, which was thought to be a cure all. Louis XIV actually used to carry mummia in a pouch and snort little bits of it. The problem was that by the late 19th century they didn’t have a bunch of old Egyptian mummies to dig up anymore. Instead, when criminals were executed, people would steal their bodies and take them to the middle of the Sahara and cover them in tar. They’d come back a year later, dig them up and sell them to apothecaries, where they’d get ground up. This was a burgeoning trade.
A Q&A with author, photographer, and ossuary expert Paul Koudounaris.
posted by the man of twists and turns (17 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
That... That's kind of nauseating...
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:56 PM on December 30, 2012


Ground mummies were also used to make paint.
posted by elsietheeel at 12:12 AM on December 31, 2012


it's funny how we americans make jokes about chinese and ayurvedic medicine, when pretty much everybody for almost all of history has been 1) killing things in order to change the weather/crop production/human fertility, and 2) eating parts of animals and humans that they think are special or powerful so that they can be special and powerful as well.

science, man - it's where it's at.
posted by facetious at 12:15 AM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think this is the awesomest article ever posted on The Hairpin.
How does one deal with an underwear-stealing ghost?

Someone went to the mummy and told him they would bury him in the ground unless he stopped stealing underpants. After that no one’s underpants disappeared.
Step 3: Profit!
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:16 AM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is one of the reasons why I'll always miss City of Heroes--I want to roll up a zombie-themed character named "Mummy Violet" now.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:54 AM on December 31, 2012


This is the place that I will post the knowledge that tons of mummified cats were used as fertilizer in Englad. Link with relevant discussion on what mummified remains were used for here. He has reference to price table records.
posted by jadepearl at 6:07 AM on December 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


In the Case of Charles Dexter Ward, the seemingly immortal sorcerer/scientist Joseph Curwen tries to pass off his load of purloined bodies slated for rendering down to essential salts as mummies for medicinal purposes. How lucky of him that there was such a purpose! Those evil sorcerers have it all covered!
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:14 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Free Mummia!
(sorry. couldn't resist)
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:52 AM on December 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


This was my favorite part:

"If you consider Psycho, the one thing that makes Norman Bates absolutely unfit to be a member of human society is that he has his mother mummified and dresses her in clothes. That what marked him as a lunatic. But back in 1700 in Sicily that would have marked him as the paradigm of a loving son. At that point death was not a boundary, it was just a transition and the dead still had a roll to play."
posted by pocketfullofrye at 9:42 AM on December 31, 2012


Free Mummia!

The price actually varied, from the cheap to the quite expensive, through the ages.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:46 AM on December 31, 2012


pocketfullofrye - that was my favorite as well. It reminds me of one of the weirder parts of late Incan society - how mummified rulers continued to hold actual power after they died.
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:32 AM on December 31, 2012


it's funny how we americans make jokes about chinese and ayurvedic medicine, when pretty much everybody for almost all of history has been 1) killing things in order to change the weather/crop production/human fertility, and 2) eating parts of animals and humans that they think are special or powerful so that they can be special and powerful as well.

I don't think it's an ignorance of history that leads to these jokes. It's more the fact that most people have figured out that evidence-based medicine is the only thing that works, and yet these people are still doing that.

Meanstwhile, I have to wonder, am I the only person who actually has no problem whatsoever with graverobbing?
posted by kafziel at 11:18 AM on December 31, 2012


Some years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Khafre, one of the pyramids of Giza. After a claustrophobic trip through the steeply sloped passageways inside, we arrived at the burial chamber which was a small and eerie room that contained only the bottom part of a stone sarcophagus, a weak light and a highly creepy man who repeatedly and slowly intoned, "MUMMIA! MUMMIA!"
posted by Morrigan at 3:50 PM on December 31, 2012


am I the only person who actually has no problem whatsoever with graverobbing

It depends - is the cultural patrimony being maintained, or are the artifacts removed and exploited?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:10 PM on December 31, 2012


It depends - is the cultural patrimony being maintained, or are the artifacts removed and exploited?

You bury gold with a corpse, like the corpse still owns it, that gold is fair game.
posted by kafziel at 11:12 AM on January 1, 2013


that gold is fair game

Fair game for who? Can miners come and remove the gold artifacts, melt them down, and sell it? Can archaeologists come and remove the gold artifacts to another country, another culture, and put them on display?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:37 AM on January 1, 2013


Fair game for who? Can miners come and remove the gold artifacts, melt them down, and sell it? Can archaeologists come and remove the gold artifacts to another country, another culture, and put them on display?

It's abandoned property, so, yes.
posted by kafziel at 12:24 PM on January 1, 2013


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