2018: Unraveling the deception of the Mississippi Capitol’s ‘Egyptian Princess’

San Diego Giant on display at side show. In December of 1896, a group of anatomists and anthropologists from Washington, D.C. traveled to a sideshow in Atlanta to examine a mummy known as the San Diego Giant, purportedly the ancient desiccated corpse of one of the tallest men who ever lived. The previous year, newspapers across the country heralded the discovery of the mummified remains of a Native American man near San Diego.  What was so compelling about the find was that the body was about eight feet four inches (2.54 meters) tall-the tallest mummy ever found.  The anthropologist that examined him thought he was about nine feet (2.74 meters) tall when he was alive and estimated that he lived about 250 years ago.  Rather than being mummified intentionally with natron and resin-like in ancient Egypt, the giant had been mummified naturally by the arid environment of Southern California. […] Read More

2016: Scientists resolve myth about the identity of the Dark Countess

Marie-Thérèse in Vienna in 1796 soon after her exile from France. Image from Wikipedia. The Countess and the Princess In 1807 an enigmatic couple arrived in the village of Hildburghausen in Central Germany and lived in the castle of Eishausen for the next 30 years. The villagers referred to the solitary duo as the Dunkelgrafen or the “Dark Counts” because when the couple was seen outside of the castle they were either in a carriage or the woman hid behind a veil. The woman known as the Dark Countess died in 1837 and was buried under the name of Sophia Botta in a cemetery in Hildburghausen, and her partner, who went by Vavel de Versay, died in 1845. Versay was later identified as Leonardus Cornelius van der Valck, secretary of the Dutch embassy in Paris. Drawing of the tomb of the Dark Countess, or Dunkelgräfin from ca. 1863. Image […] Read More

2015: How to make honey infused corpse medicine

Corpse medicine was a type of remedy produced with the bones, organs, and blood from dead bodies. It is mentioned in ancient medical texts and histories from Greece, China, Mesopotamia, and India. One of the more peculiar accounts of corpse medicine comes from the 16th century Chinese materia medica, also known as the Bencao gangmu, written by Li-Shih-chen. In the Bencao gangmu, Li-Shih-chen describes an ancient Arabic recipe to make a medicine called “mellified man.” To make “mellified man,” an elderly man volunteered to mummify himself from the inside out with honey until he died, then his corpse was placed in a coffin filled with honey. After 100 years, his coffin was opened so his remains were harvested for medicine. “In Arabia there are men 70 to 80 years old who are willing to give their bodies to save others. The subject does not eat food, he only bathes […] Read More

1800s: The vampire slayings of 19th century New England

The Vampire by Sir Philip Burne-Jones, ca. 1897. Image credit: Wikipedia The vampire myth originates in ancient beliefs in demons or evil spirits who feed on the blood and flesh of the living. Cultures all over the world have a version of a blood-sucking creature that returns from the grave to torment and feed on people. The creatures in these ancient myths eventually gave way to bloated folkloric vampires that spread disease and the charismatic fictional vampires that consume the living and give eternal life. In New England, in the 19th century, so many people believed that their dead family members were climbing out of their graves to kill relatives that the issue was addressed by incredulous academics and reporters in journals and newspaper articles. According to Paul Barber, author of Vampires, Burial & Death, there are two types of vampires: folkloric and fictional. Fictional vampires are supernatural creatures […] Read More

2015: A pharaonic murder mystery that was solved with forensic analysis

Forensic analyses of two Egyptian mummies published in the British Medical Journal in 2012 may have answered questions scholars had about the outcome of an ancient conspiracy against Pharaoh Ramesses III and the identity of a contorted mummy believed to be his “murderous son.” A team comprised of Egyptologists, geneticists, biologists, and paleoanthropologists conducted a forensic examination on both mummies that included an anthropological examination, CT scans, and DNA tests (Hawass et al., 2012). Ramesses III (1217 BC – 1155 BC) was the second pharaoh of the Twentieth Dynasty. Considered to the “last great king” of the New Kingdom, he ruled during a difficult time of economic instability and national turmoil caused by drought and war (Al Jazeera 2012). But his rule was cut short by treacherous acts committed by members of his own family and palace staff. Ramesses III had chosen Ramesses Amonhirkhopshef (Ramesses IV), his son with […] Read More