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Saturday, 14 June 2014

I'm not in Wessex...mummification.

The weather forecast was for rain. For thunder. For sunny periods too. But this is Britain. So I'm not at The Sanctuary. Call me feeble, but leaving the house at 4 am to go stand in the rain didn't merit the cost of half a tank of petrol.

But I'm still thinking about the bodies buried by standing stones; at the Sanctuary and in the Avenue of stones which used to connect the Sanctuary to Avebury.

There is a possibility that the body at the Sanctuary was once a mummy.

We have a history of preserving the dead, in this country.  Bronze Age Skeletons found buried under houses at Cladh Hallan, South Uist, that on first appearance appeared to be of one person were found to have been made from two or three people.


Uhle excavation 1896.

The Incas mummified their dead by wrapping the body in many layers of textiles and leaves, creating a large bundle. They then placed a false head on top of the bundle, usually made of carved wood or pottery. There is no indication that the bodies in Britain were treated the same way. No evidence of a pottery head has been found.

And the bodies at Cladh Hallen looked like the the Inca mummy bundles found by Max Uhle during his excavations at Pachacamac in 1896.

As you can see, the legs have been pulled tightly up into the chest, the arms were tightly bound to the side of the body, and the forearms were around the legs.

The body at the Sanctuary was not so tightly contracted as those at Cladh Hallan. Nor is he or she in the same position. But there is a possibility that this body is composite, made of more than one person because the anatomy of the pelvis appears to be female, whilst that of the jaw appears to be male. But as Aubrey Burl has pointed out, the body is placed in a way typical for a male Bronze Age burial; lying on his right side.

Photo of Bronze Age burial by stone C 12 at the Sanctuary, Avebury, Wessex.

The first stage in mummification is to remove the internal organs, and then two methods of preservation could have been to soak the body in a peat bog, or to smoke them in a smoke house...And it had probably been going on for a long time, as long as a thousand years before the burial at the Sanctuary- mummified or not- took place.

Sometimes remains found in long barrows show signs of the flesh having been cut from the dead bone. The usual explanation to the question just why would one want to do that? is to say that soul or spirit is in the flesh and that removing the wet flesh helps the dead. Spirit trapped in wet flesh turning into maggots. Best cut it away...But perhaps bones with cut marks resulted from the creation of Jenny Hannover-type, custom built, mummy bundles.

Most bones found in long barrows are disarticulated, long bones and skulls. As the famous Dr Toope makes clear, the bones inside long barrows were not always left alone after the barrow had been sealed. Dr Toope took 'bushels of bones' from West Kennet from which he brewed medicine for his neighbours. Apparently 'corpse medicine' was very popular in his day.




Nevertheless, one whole skeleton was found at West Kennet in the north-west chamber.


The position of the legs and the arms, in this burial are similar to those of the body at the Sanctuary. The arms are by the side of the body, perhaps resting on the knees. The forearms are brought up towards the face.


One could argue that embalming fluid, is not so far from mummification.
Alcor is a 'living' mummification.
Just not everyone sees the dead as protectors.

In Britain a corpse is a source of infection, an empty thing. The ancestors are remembered as names. Instead the names of the dead are cut into stone and bronze, but the dead body is buried or burnt, or pieces of it are given to the living as transplant.

The Kuku Kuku people still preserve bodies...


And somewhere, in a cuboard to my right, I have Karmapa salt. I'm never very happy about that...I think I feel sad about it. Not sure? Anyway, Karmapa salt is salt that was used to draw out the moisture from the body of the Karmarpa.


It was said that when Karmapa laughed, which he did all the time, one would hear him several houses away.

The Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje was to be mummified. The process is accomplished by using lots and lots of salt. A wooden box is built around the body and salt poured into this. Damp salt is removed, new salt poured in. But, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje was cremated in the end, and some of his salt is in my cupboard...because I knew someone who knew someone who was there.

Makes me feel like Herodotus when I say that.