I learned from this book that there are all kinds of mummies-- accidental mummies- preserved by their dry and/or frozen environment, planned mummies-preserved by special treatment after death, and sacrificial children-- left alive, "high and dry" to die as an honor to the Incan sun god, Inti. Yes, a lot of this book is grisly but I found myself laughing at loud at Hollihan's light touch of humor throughout this fascinating treatment of the lives they had led and then died so that we can flesh out their story.
How do we know about them? Through the work of "shovel-happy archaeologists." The death of a frozen mummy called the "Italian Ice man" was a mystery. What happened to him? To this day "...researchers are still hot on the info trail. 'Freezing to death is quite likely the main case of death in this classic cold case.'" Modern forensic science, CT scans, DNA analysis, pathology analysis may be used to determine what diseases they had lived with and died from, what they ate, and how to continue to protect their remains from bacteria that work on the usual buried corpse. As Hollihan puts it, "The mummies were studied to death." and many of them ended up in museums.
In the case of one crypt in Hungary, uncovered by a church's renovation in 1994, Hollihan writes: "Mother Nature had done her thing with air and something else.... The something else was pinesap, sticky and acidic that had seeped from the pine boards. The undertakers had also sprinkled pine shavings inside the coffins to absorb liquid leaking from the corpses as they decomposed. With acid to kill the bacteria and bugs, and plenty of air flowing by, the bodies had dried out. Easy queasy."
Kerrie Hollihan has done her homework in bringing to life these tales of death. Interspersed in discussions of various mummies are "Factlet" pages that add additional pertinent information such as a discussion of contemporary people who choose to be frozen in liquid nitrogen upon death so that they might be revitalized by science some time in the future-- called the "Freeze, Wait, Reanimate" club. But my most important take-away from this book is the humanity of people throughout the ages and how much we can learn from their bodies, their clothing, their art, their tools and the way their survivors and nature preserved them so they can inform us of their ancient civilizations. Mummies are amazing time capsules of the human story.