Mummified monk revealed inside 1,000-year-old Buddha statue

Scientific tests have revealed that an ancient Buddhist statue contains the perfectly preserved remains of a 1,000-year-old mummified monk, in what is believed to be the only such example in the world.

The monk, who is sitting in the lotus position, is thought to have starved himself to death in an act of extreme spiritual devotion in China or Tibet in the 10th century. His preserved remains were displayed in his monastery.

Some 200 years later, perhaps after his remains started to deteriorate, his mummified body was placed inside the elaborate, lacquered statue of Buddha.

The unusual contents of the statue were discovered in the 1990s when the statue underwent restoration. Experts were unable to remove the mummy due to the risk of disintegration, so they could do little more than peer into the darkened cavity of the Buddha.

Now, an international team of German, Dutch and Italian scientists has conducted a CAT scan which revealed the monk’s skeleton in perfect detail.

“It was not uncommon for monks to practise self-mummification but to find a mummified monk inside a statue is really extraordinary,” said Wilfrid Rosendahl, a German palaeontologist who led the research. “It’s the only known example in the world.

“Using a CAT scan, we saw that there was a perfectly preserved body with skin and muscles inside the statue. It’s a complete mummy, not just a skeleton. He was aged between 30 and 50.”

The mummy has been studied by an interdisciplinary team of experts, including radio carbon dating specialists and textile analysts, at the Meander Medical Centre in Amersfoort, the Netherlands.

Using an endoscope, experts took samples from inside the mummy’s thoracic and abdominal cavities and discovered that the monk’s organs had been removed and replaced with ancient wads of paper printed with Chinese characters.

Samples of bone were also taken for DNA testing.

The Buddha statue was bought several decades ago on the art market by a Dutch private collector, who had no idea that the mummy was hidden inside.

It will go on display in museums around Europe, and is currently in the Natural History Museum in Budapest.

“The monk died in a process of self-mummification,” said Dr Rosendahl.

“During the last weeks he would have started eating less food and drinking only water. Eventually he would have gone into a trance, stopped breathing and died. He basically starved himself to death.

“The other monks would have put him close to a fire to dry him out and put him on display in the monastery, we think somewhere in China or Tibet.

“He was probably sitting for 200 years in the monastery and the monks then realised that he needed a bit of support and preservation so they put him inside the statue.”

Mummified monks were not only the focus of religious devotion, but important for the economy of the monastery because they attracted pilgrims who would offer donations.


Thanks to Steven Weihing for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

Landscape of Dead Bodies May Have Inspired First Mummies


Trekking through Chile’s Atacama Desert 7000 years ago, hunter-gatherers known as the Chinchorro walked in the land of the dead. Thousands of shallowly buried human bodies littered the earth, their leathery corpses pockmarking the desolate surroundings. According to new research, the scene inspired the Chinchorro to begin mummifying their dead, a practice they adopted roughly 3000 years before the Egyptians embraced it.

Archaeologists have long studied how the Chinchorro made their mummies, the first in history, says ecologist Pablo Marquet of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile in Santiago. After removing the skin to be dried, the hunter-gatherers scooped out the organs and stuffed the body with clay, dried plants, and sticks. Once they reattached the skin, embalmers painted the mummy shiny black or red and put a black wig on its head. Covering the corpses’ faces were clay masks, some molded into an open-mouthed expression that later inspired Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream.

Few scientists have tackled the mystery of why the Chinchorro started to mummify their dead in the first place. Complicated cultural practices such as mummification, Marquet says, tend to arise only in large, sedentary populations. The more people you have in one place, the more opportunity for innovation, development, and the spread of new ideas. The Chinchorro don’t fit that mold. As nomadic hunter-gatherers, they formed groups of about only 100 people.

To solve the mystery, Marquet and his colleagues needed to go back in time. Using data from ice cores in the Andes, the researchers reconstructed the climate of the region where the Chinchorro lived: the northern coast of Chile and the southern coast of Peru, along the western edge of the Atacama Desert. Before 7000 years ago, the area was extremely arid, the team found, but then it went through a wetter period that lasted until about 4000 years ago. Analyses of carbon-dated Chinchorro artifacts, such as shell piles (known as middens) and mummies, suggest that the rainier conditions supported a larger population, peaking about 6000 years ago.

The team calculated, based on the demographics of hunter-gatherers, that a single Chinchorro group of roughly 100 people would produce about 400 corpses every century. These corpses, shallowly buried and exposed to the arid Atacama climate, would not have decomposed, but lingered. Given that the Chinchorro settled the Atacama coast roughly 10,000 years ago, the researchers argue that by the time the practice of mummification started about 7000 years ago, a staggering number of bodies would have piled up. A single person was likely to see several thousand naturally mummified bodies during his or her lifetime, the team reports online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The number increased over the years, until mummies “became part of the landscape,” Marquet says.

This constant exposure to natural mummies may have led to a cult of the dead involving artificial mummification. “The dead have a huge impact on the living,” Marquet says, citing work by psychologists and sociologists that shows that exposure to dead bodies produces tangible psychological and social effects, often leading to religious practices. “There’s a conflict between how you think of someone alive and dead,” he says. Religious practices and ideas—such as funerals, wakes, and the belief in ghosts—help resolve that conflict. “Imagine living in the barren desert with barely anything, just sand and stone,” he says. Barely anything, that is, except for hundreds, if not thousands, of dead bodies that never decay. One would feel “compelled somehow to relate” to the corpses, he says, speculating that the Chinchorro made mummies in order to come to terms with the continued presence of their dead. When the climate turned dry again and food supplies dwindled, Marquet says, the population dropped. The complex Chinchorro embalming practices also petered out around that time.

Thanks to Dr. Rajadhyaksha for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

Russian woman mummified her husband


 A headless mummified body found in a ditch in central Russia was there because of a failed Biblical miracle, not murder, Yaroslavl Region investigators said on Monday.

The man, a Pentecostal missionary, died of an illness, but his wife, a member of the same Christian denomination, preserved the corpse for three years, the local branch of the Investigative Committee said.

The woman expected him to return to life, the report said.

The mummified body was found in the village of Semibratovo in July, stashed in a plastic bag. It was missing an arm and head, soon discovered in a nearby trash dump.

The committee opened a case on murder charges, but eventually discovered the truth was quite different.

The man, whose name was withheld, worked as a missionary for the Pentecostals, including in the Siberian republic of Buryatia, the investigators said.

The family led an isolated life, with their five children brought up by the missionary’s wife, a certified preschool teacher.

The head of the family expired in 2009, but his wife could not bring herself to accept it, the report said. She preserved the body in the apartment and told the children he would come back to life.

The children were made to attend to their late father every day, speaking to him and “feeding” him broth. They reported to their mother that he conversed with them, but she never entered his room, afraid that contacting him prematurely could spoil the resurrection.

The family kept acquaintances at bay by telling them the man was too ill to speak to anyone. They used air fresheners to mask the odor of the rotting body.

The pretend play continued until last summer, when the family decided to relocate elsewhere in the region. Fearing that the body would be discovered, two of the missionary’s three daughters, aged 9 and 14, carried the corpse away to dump it. The arm and the head broke away in the process and had to be discarded separately.

The case was closed without any charges against the woman, who did not need hospitalization, the investigators said. But child protection services were looking into the incident.

Pentecostal groups have more than 1,300 churches across Russia, according to, a website for the United Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith, a Pentecostal organization.