Published On: Fri, Jan 17th, 2014

Meet the Mummies of Yucatán !

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The Municipality of Santa Elena not only has in its backyard the internationally known archaeological site of Uxmal, but it is also the home of the Mummies of Yucatán, 12 coffins with mummified remains of children that were discovered during remodeling works of the Santa Elena Church back in 1980. The National Institute of History and Antropology (INAH), has recently reopened this exhibition after maintenance labors.

It is presumed that the church of Santa Elena was built in 1779 on top of a pre -hispanic structure in the center of the town, which before 1848 was known as Nohcacab (The Great Village) . During remodeling works of the church’s floor in 1980, 12 coffins were found containing the remains of children between 1 and 7 years old.

Archaeologist José Huchim Herrera, head of the archaeological site of Uxmal and Route Puuc for the INAH

Archaeologist José Huchim Herrera, head of the archaeological site of Uxmal and Puuc Route for the INAH (Photo: Raul Ponce de Leon)

According to Archaeologist José Huchim Herrera , head of the archaeological site of Uxmal and Puuc Route for the INAH , the remains do not match the mortuary tradition of the town of Santa Elena , it is thought that they probably belong to the last century (1900 ‘s). The fact that the infants were buried in the church means they came from prominent families in town, also the experts have not been able to identify the ethnic affiliation, therefore it is believed the mommies belong to a colony of 213 Germans (128 adults and 85 children) from Hamburg who were brought to the Yucatan by Imperial Commissioner José Salazar Abberegui at that time.

Santa Elena Church

Santa Elena Church

 

Discovery of the Mummies. (Photograph courtesy of the Museum)

Discovery of the Mummies. (Photograph courtesy of the Museum)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mummified remains of children are dressed with cotton clothing that cover all the body, even the coffins show decorations in water paint with colorful flower shapes. Some of the remains still retain traces of skin, hair and nails. José Huchim Herrera explained that the infants were accidentally mummified because of the materials used in the funeral rite. The bodies were placed on a bed of oak leaves that produce tannins when decomposing; this substance prevents the formation of microorganisms that destroy soft tissue. In addition, the bottom of the coffin was covered with lime and dirt, which helped to preserve a dry environment inside the coffins.

Decoration on coffin of Mummy No 3

Decoration on coffin of Mummy No 3

Water paint decoration on coffin of Mummy No 3

Water paint decoration on coffin of Mummy No 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The discovery of the mummies caused great excitement within the population, the local press published the headline “The Dwarves of Santa Elena “relating them to the Aluxes. The incident was reported to the regional center of the INAH, the archaeologists Peter J. Schmidt, Norberto González and the physical anthropologist Lourdes Marquez Morfin concluded that the remains were infant corpses that for some reason did not undergo a process of normal breakdown of soft tissues, for this reason they were considered semi – mummified.

Hand of Mummy No 4 showing traces of skin and nails

Hand of Mummy No 4 showing traces of skin and nails (Photo: Raul Ponce de Leon)

Of the 12 coffins, 3 were sent to police forensic center in Merida, 5 were reburied in the church of Santa Elena and the remaining 4 are exhibited in the Museum of the Church in a special chamber to preserve them.

Mummy No 1

Mummy No 1 (Photo: Raul Ponce de Leon)

 

The Mummies of Yucatán were subjected to radiological, anthropometric, biological, and osteological studies, which revealed various pathological processes that were most likely the cause of death. Evidence of high fever, severe malnutrition and infectious processes suggest the presence of an epidemic at the time.

Mummy No 3

Mummy No 3 (Photo: Raul Ponce de Leon)

 

The museum is located at the rear of the Church of Santa Elena. It is open from 9:00 am to 6:30 pm from Monday to Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 9 am to 7 pm. The museum charges a recovery fee of $ 5 pesos to domestic visitors and $ 10 pesos to foreigners, admission is free for people with INSEN card, students and children under 12 years.

Mummy No 4

Mummy No 4 (Photo: Raul Ponce de Leon)

 

Mummy No 4 with bonnet

Mummy No 4 (with bonnet) Photo: Raul Ponce de Leon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Santa Elena is a town of approximately 5,00 inhabitants, it is located on the main highway between te archaelogical sites of Uxmal and Kabah. It is also close to other tourist destinations of the Puuc region and about 100km (63 miles) Southeast from Merida. As you drive into town, the Colonial Church atop a hill is visible from the road.

Photos and story by Raúl Ponce de León Curmina

 

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