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The Mummy Congress: Science, Obsession, and the Everlasting Dead





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About the book:

You do not have to be a necrophiliac to enjoy this book, and the congress in question is not on the wrong side of the moral track, but The Mummy Congress was inspired by a kind of academic love-in for amateurs of preserved bodies. Heather Pringle, a science writer who lives in Vancouver, Canada, was inspired to write this fascinating book by attending the Third World Congress on Mummy Studies held in the Chilean town of Arica at the edge of the Atacama desert. She returned, as she says "almost feverish with excitement over the wonderful stories I'd heard there". The Mummy Congress recounts many of these extraordinary stories of the discovery of mummified bodies and the people who have spent their professional lives trying to recover as much information as they can about them. There are some great crime stories here such as that of the 2400-year-old Tollund man of Denmark and the other bog bodies of Europe, many of whom might have been human sacrifices. Our concern for the dead and for elaborate burial ceremonies date back at least 30,000 years. Over the millennia humans around the world have discovered that burial in peatbogs, deserts and ice can preserve some soft tissue--especially the skin and hair, even muscle and brains--almost indefinitely. But since there are few places in the world where such conditions persist, peoples since the Chinchorros of Chile and the ancient Egyptians have spent a lot of effort trying to replicate such processes of mummification and invent even better artificial ones. The scientific investigation of mummified bodies might not be for the fainthearted and is today very sophisticated, but according to Heather Pringle, those that pursue the cause "are unquestionably heroic... they debate earnestly... the ethics of putting the ancient dead on display... (and) ...never talk lightly or unfeelingly about their ailments... they show us that even the greatest kings and holiest of saints... once suffered the common toll of humanity-disease, injury and pain". The Mummy Congress is a great read and I suspect lots of friends and family will be subjected to many a "listen to this" or "would you believe" quote. There are 16 pages of illustrations including some spooky colour photos along with an index and bibliography and, by the way, the next Mummy Congress is to be held in Greenland. --Douglas Palmer

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