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Accidents of the Accidental Mummies of Guanajuato Exhibition: A biocultural heritage on risk The mummies of Guanajuato are not the

unique, but the most famous mummies of Mexico. They constitute a valuable biocultural legacy, an international icon and a national identity referent. These mummies had been recovered since 1865, from the Santa Paula Cemetery of Guanajuato city, and few years later began to sell tickets to visit a small collection of dry bodies stored on a catacomb, later transformed into a museum. The Museum and its mummies had captivated for decades the imagination and curiosity of visitors. They are legends, macabre candies, movies and tales characters and lately, a weird business. In 2008 the Guanajuatos municipality signed a contract with a Mexican entrepreneur to exhibit 36 mummies in the United States at the Accidental Mummies of Guanajuato traveling exhibition. So he never paid the rights, therefore he was accused of fraud. But the bodies were captive at Detroit until a court resolves the case. The lack of a regulation about this kind of remains, which are neither archaeological nor historical under the Mexican law of monuments, put on risk not only the Guanajuatos mummies, but all of them which arent Prehispanic. The mummies are a cultural heritage containing valuable information on biological, medical, cultural, historical and biographical issues which must be protected. Under the Mexican Federal Law of Archaeological, Historical and Artistic Monuments1, from 1972, only archaeological remains are considered as nations property (Article 27). According to this law: ARTICLE 28. - Archaeological monuments are the movable and immovable cultural product prior to establishment of the Hispanic in the country, as well as human remains, flora and fauna, about these cultures. ARTICLE 28 BIS. - For the purposes of this Act and the Regulations, the provisions on monuments and archaeological areas apply to the remains or fossil remains of organic

Ley Federal de Zonas y Monumentos Arqueolgicas, Artsticos e Histricos, INAH, Mxico, 1972.

beings that inhabited the country in earlier times and whose research, conservation, restoration, recovery are of paleontological interest or use, a fact that must be entered in the respective declaration issued by the President of the Republic. For our purposes, only Prehispanic mummies are national property under the control of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) as archaeological remains. But other organic remains as skeletons or mummies, from 16th to 21th centuries, are under different types of municipal, medical and urban legislations. The Regulations of Cemeteries of Guanajuatos Municipality2, states in the Articles 6 to 10, that the municipal government will provide to the mourners a legally established place to burying human remains. They must pay a fee for burying and that tax will get to them the right to preserve the remains in the assigned place by five years. That right can be extended if mourners pay another charge sixty days before the deadline and, the municipality reserves the right to grant such extension. After five years, and no fees payment, the municipality can exhume the remains and deposit them in a grave to be used as a common ossuary. The Regulations said nothing about a right to own or use these human remains after five years, or not fee payment. Thus, why the mummified bodies are exhibited as attractions? Because this is a tradition, therefore is no regulated. This tradition began in 1859, when President Benito Juarez decreed the secularization of Churchs property 3. This decree forbade burials within churches buildings and ordered the creation of civil graveyards. The decree also ordered the charge of a fee for five years tenure of corpses in an isolated grave. Santa Paula in Guanajuato was the first civil cemetery in Mexico. It opened on March 19, 1861. According to the law, it began to charge the burial tax to preserve the deaths within their graves, but in the beginning, not for five but for three years of tenure. The first body was exhumed after three years buried from grave number 214 on July 9, 1865. This was Remigio Leroy, a French physician who established in Guanajuato in early 19th century. After five years dead there was no family to claim him, so the gravediggers
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Municipio de Guanajuato, 1991. Ley de Secularizacin de Cementerios, 1859.

exhumed him. To his surprise, Remigio was still well preserved. His body had been dried, his tissue, skin, nails and hair was on place and his elegant clothes, intact. Dr. Leroy was moved to a dark warehouse attached to the cemetery. This was an outstanding event for locals, and very soon the curious came to see the mummy. Remigio Leroy was the first Guanajuatos Mummy, and sooner, more and more dissected corpses were stacked in the cellar. After a while, the municipality began charging to see the mummies; a new business was born. Today 20 million pesos -around 160 thousand dollars-, enter to the Treasury of Guanajuato Municipality thanks to the mummies. They generate an important flow of tourists to the city, the state and the region. Mummies are important. For more than one hundred years, mummies stay stacked in the warehouse. Its mysterious and frightening atmosphere was attractive. The mummies were exhibit without any protection, so the visitors could touch them, and even to take a little piece as a souvenir. The entrance was on the pantheon and visitors had to descend by a stretch spiral staircase. In the year 1970 a special facility devoted to mummies was created; the Museum of the Mummies of Guanajuato, back to the graveyard. It has been remodeled several times until today. The Museum keeps 120 mummified bodies which 86 are exhibited. Of them, 68 are adults, 10 child, 5 skulls and 1 torso. Other 36 mummies are stored. But they are frequently used for traveling exhibitions, so they are known as the traveling mummies. Of these 31 are adults and 5 children.4 Twenty two mummies of the permanent exhibition had been studied, but most stay unknowing in his general and specific aspects like biographical information, physical and pathological conditions, and particular features as malformations, life style, clothes or deaths circumstances. Studies had been conducted by Dr. Jerry Melbye of the University of San Marcos, Texas, Dr. Rohn Beckett and Dr. Jerry Conlogue, Co-directors of the Bioanthropology Research

Information by Mr. Jos Navarrete Garza, Director of the Museum of the Mummies of Guanajuato, May 31, 2013.

Institute at Quinnipiac University in Hamdem, Conn.5 Beckett and Conlogue which are Paleoimaging specialists -, had examined internally the mummies using X-Ray endoscopy, and Melbye performed external visuals and biological analyses. They conclude a partial study as a part of a larger one that seeks to understand the origin and development of the whole collection. Their studies revealed that not all the mummies were naturally. Some of them were partially embalmed, like that of a fetus the worlds youngest fetus mummy which Melbye has aged to be 24 fetal weeks. The other one is a newborn male infant, probably died between 1850 and 1950, perhaps as a result of a spontaneous abortion. Both mummies have surgical incisions in torsos that were made to extract their internal organs. After that, the torsos were stuffed with cotton-strings, and then closed with surgical thread. In addition the fetus head was opened to extract his brain, and then stuffed and closed in the same way I said. Why those children were embalmed in a place where mummification happens naturally very quickly? Melby believe that incisions were made by a surgeon to remove the organs and to preserve it. Also, embalming could extent the bodies permanency while mortuary rituals for Angelitos little angels or died infants, free of sins were performed. One of these rituals is to dress the child as a santito, or a saint, by using dresses of the color that correspond to the saint that representing the month which the boy died. For a short time, the dressed boys were displayed and photographed along or with his family as if they are still alive. The Investigations of Beckett and Conlogue since 20016 revealed that diseases as rheumatoid arthritis, extreme anemia, and tuberculosis could be in some cases, the cause of death. They have also evidence of smoke inhalation, either of tobacco or from working into the local mines. They found evidence that a number of babies could die for weanling diarrhea, a bacterial infection caused when adults chew solid food to soften it to f eed his babies, at the preindustrial times. All the team also worked in to clarify whether is true or not myths told about some mummies, like that of a woman who was buried alive.

Friu and Wright, 2007

Nevertheless, the importance and significance of this preliminary results, still much to investigate. Therefore, good preservation of all mummies and his attachments are a priority. In the year 2008 the Traveling Mummies were invited to travel again. But this time to the United States for a great tour over Detroit, Dallas and Greensboro cities, from October 2009 to January 2013. After that, mummies might go to Europe for another tour. Or at least, that was the idea of Mr. Manuel Hernndez Berlin, owner of Firma Corporativa, a Mexican company of fun shows. The same year, the municipality of Guanajuato signed a contract to exhibit the mummies in USA. The Company would pay to municipality $1 Dollar for each visitor to the Accidental Mummies of Guanajuato traveling exhibition. This was the very first time the mummies will go out of Mexico. The 2 million dollars exhibition had fortunately the advice of Doctors Beckett and Conlongue and the participation of Mr. Louis Aguilar, a Mexico- American journalist who wrote a coffee-table book about the exhibition. Their participation assured that the exhibition wont be a frightening show, but a serious scientifically approach to see these people as they were 100 years ago. To achieve this goal, new studies on paleoimaging were conducted by the researchers, and a FBI-trained forensic artist Dra. Barbara A. Martin Bailey- re-creates what the mummies might have looked like when they were alive. The Detroit Science Center wrestled against Chicago to organize the exhibition. The display was divided in four parts. The first part was an introduction to Guanajuato one century ago. Then, visitors enter to a re-creation of a part of Santa Paula cemetery. The third section was the exhibition showcase, with mummies in individual glass cases, along with biographical and medical interpretations. The last part was focused on the Mexican day of the Dead.7 The exhibition opened from October 2009, to January 2010. Preview tickets costs $125 USD, $ 100 USD if more than one was bought. General tickets were sold for $24.95 adults, $22.95 seniors and $19.95, 12 and under. As I said, Mr. Berlin would pay $1.00 for each

visitor but, surprisingly, the Municipality never receives a cent. Mr. Berlin accumulates a debt of more than $500 000 dollars with them. In October 10, 2010, after municipalitys pressure, he delivered a check for the half of that amount, with no funds. And after a while, he did the same again; but this time the municipality accuses Mr. Berlins of fraud, starting a trial which lasted until this now. Mr. Berlin was forced to send back the 36 traveling mummies in good conditions. The exhibition was suspended and, by almost five years the mummies were away from his home, staying stored in Detroit until the final decision. Mummies finally arrives to Mexico City on April 4, 2013, being immediately carried to Guanajuato where life is worthless, as a song says-. Current municipal authorities, headed by Mayor Luis Fernando Gutierrez Marquez, makes a compromise with people to recover and to preserve this valuable heritage, to Guanajuatos people. After an inspection to be sure that all the bodies came back with no damages, the Commission of Guanajuatos Mummies opened a special temporary exhibition for the local people, to show this valuable legacy, at the ancient train station. Furthermore, the Museum of the Mummies is improving its facilities, in order to receive the collection in better conditions for preservation and future studies. Mummies as a Biocultural Heritage Ray Bradbury was one of the modern famous writers of science fiction, mystery, fantasy and horror novels and tales. He wrote best sellers like Martian Chronicles (1950), Fahrenheit 451 (1953) and The Illustrated Man (1951). In 1947 Mr. Bradbury visited the catacombs of Guanajuato accompanied by his friend Grant Beach8. They suffer a horrible experience in there that caused to Bradbury nightmares and, as a result he wrote The next in the line, a tale about a couple who visit Guanajuato and stops in the Santa Paula Graveyard. There, they know about a shocking policy: to exhume and to exhibit the mummified corpses of those who wont pay the burial tax. In the introduction to his book Ray Bradbury wrote:

The experience let me so hurt and terrified, I could not wait to flee Mexico. I had nightmares about death and having to stay in the halls of the standing and tied dead bodies and to purge my terror, instantly, I wrote "The next in line. One of the few times that experience paid off almost immediately. At that time the mummies were shown into a dark and stretch gallery, where dried bodies with horrifying gestures, stay standing forming a row on each side of the hall, few inches away from the viewer. The shocking, mysterious, morbid and suffocating atmosphere of that place tormented Mr. Bradburys dreams. But was the perfect scenario for another artist: Werner Herzog. At the end of 1970 he filmed the catacomb of the mummies for the initial sequence of Nosferatus the Vampire film. In it, he captures the frightening environment of the hall, like might look like when Bradbury, and Herzog years later went, in 1960. For his film Herzog took the mummies out of his glass cases and arranged them as they were usually shown, propped against the wall. 9 This two masterpieces of art made worldwide famous the Guanajuatos mummies. El Santo or The Saint was the most famous professional wrestler of Mexico characterized by his silver mask. He is considered an idol, and an icon and a superhero of the popular culture in my country. El Santo wrestled against monster and supernatural creatures to restore the order. He started a successful career on comics and movies by 1950, ten years before Batman in the USA10. In 1970 the film The Saint against the Mummies of Guanajuato, was filmed at Guanajuato city. One of the genuine mummies was taken as a model for the protagonist character named Satan. In the story, Satan revives after a century, to take vengeance from El Santo, because an ancestor of the Silver Masked killed him. This film as many others of El Santo are considered masterpieces of the surrealist cinema, because it is believed that the ingenuousness of the story and the mistakes made during the filming were purposely. After that, many other films where the mummies of Guanajuato are protagonists were made, including cartoons.


In 1960 JOMA-SAGITARIO-ORIZABAL publisher house, nationally launched the comic Las Momias de Guanajuato, tales of horror whose covers were frightening and bloody. The Guanajuatos mummies were definitely established as part of the Mexican culture and identity. But contrary to what is believed, they are not linked to the Day of the Deaths tradition. However, the mummies are integrated to our idiosyncrasy in other way, as a candy. Little mummies along or in couples are made by the expertise artisans of Guanajuato. In their workshops they modeling by hand the mummies of charamusca, a sugar based candies which are a delight. Today a lot of mummies souvenirs are made in wood, clay, iron or paper, providing a mean of subsistence for numerous families in Guanajuato. Mummies are important. A little percentage of those who died and were buried into the crypts of Santa Paula, becomes mummies by a natural process of dehydration, thanks to the isolation providing by cement, stone, coffins and the dry weather of the city. Their bodies hide the mystery of their live and death; their clothes the secrets of their lifestyle. Lot information which is important to know how those people lived a century ago, still stay deeply in their being, as the scientific studies had revealed. Therefore, emphasize, the optimal preservation of such biocultural legacy is a priority. Is time to reconsidering the role of the mummies, not as morbid attractions or fun shows; but as an important resource for the knowledge, teaching and meditation on the complexity of human life. A regulation assuring an adequate management of this and other mummies, avoiding exhibitions whose main objective is to make money must be decree. As members of a modern society we are responsible for teach that animal or human mummies are not things, but beings. Therefore, they must be also treated with dignity and respect. GRC. 4/06/13

Bibliography Aguilar, Louis, 2009 Long Live The Dead: The Accidental Mummies of Guanajuato, Accidental Mummies Touring Company, Detroit. Bradbury, Ray 1947 Dark Carnival, Arkham House, N.Y. Bradbury, Ray and Archie Leberman 1972 The Mummies of Guanajuato, Amulet Books, N.Y. Friu, Ann and Michael Wright 2007 Secrets of the Mummies Revealed in the Latest Preliminary Scientific Study, Hillviews, fall-winter, University of San Marcos, Tx. Pp. 7-17 INAH 1972 Ley Federal sobre Zonas y Monumentos Arqueolgicas, Artsticos e Histricos, Mxico. Lara Gonzlez, Carlos Alberto 2005 El Patrimonio Cultural en Mxico, Un Recurso Para el Desarrollo, Tesis de Maestra en Comunicacin con Especialidad en Ciencia y Cultura, Instituto Tecnolgico de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, ITESO, Jalisco. Municipio de Guanajuato 1991 Reglamento para el Servicio Pblico de Panteones del Municipio de Guanajuato, Guanajuato, Mxico.

Internet Resources El Santo. Friu, Ann 2007 Professor Unravels Secrets of Guanajuato Mummies, Texas State University of San Marcos, University News Services.

Hodges H., Michael 2009 Detroit Science Center Launches Accidental Mummies of Guanajuato, The Detroit News.

Leavenworth, Jesse 2007 Let the Bodies Speak,


Nosferatu The Vampire. Silva, Martha 2012 El hechizo de Ray Bradbury cay sobre Guanajuato y viceversa, Zona Franca.