A small town in Mexico is home to what are called the screaming mummies, a collection of eerily preserved bodies that are all less than 200 years old. Mummies aren't just from Egypt –examples of mummies have been found around the world. Today, the screaming mummies of Guanajuato can be found in the Museo de las Momias, one of the strangest museums in the world. The mummies, who died between the 1830s and 1950s, are on display for tourists drawn by the Guanajuato mummies tour.
Were the Guanajuato mummies buried alive? At least one mummy, discovered chewing on her own arm and with a mouth full of blood, was buried before she died. Others died during Mexico’s deadly cholera outbreak of 1833, the same outbreak that killed thousands around the world. Before a London doctor proved that the disease was caused by infected water, hundreds may have been buried alive to stop the spread of cholera.
The Mexican mummy museum, which is home to over 100 mummies, is both gruesome and fascinating. The preserved bodies of the mummies in the museum, including the world’s smallest mummy – still a fetus when his mother died – are windows into the past.
The Screaming Mummies Were Dug Up Between 1865 And 1958
The Museo de las Momias in Guanajuato, Mexico, is home to more than 100 mummies, the oldest of whom were mummified in the 1830s. The so-called screaming mummies are caught in a variety of poses: clutching their arms around their bodies, mouths open and twisted in horror, and in one case, a mummy chews on her own arm.
These bodies were buried in the dry soil of Guanajuato and dug up between 1865 and 1958. Some of the exhumed bodies were naturally mummified by the arid conditions and stored in the Saint Paola cemetery’s underground ossuary. The preserved bodies were put on display for the first time in the 1950s.
Many Of The Mummies Died In Mexico’s Horrifying Cholera Outbreak Of 1833
Cholera, a highly contagious disease that spreads via contaminated water, swept across the globe between 1826 and 1837. Some consider it the world's first truly global disease. The epidemic struck nearly all corners of the map, appearing in India, Russia, England, and Japan. In 1833, it reached Mexico.
Cholera could kill within hours. The infected victim would become dangerously dehydrated due to vomiting and diarrhea, until her skin turned bluish grey and she died. Thousands fell victim to cholera, and doctors were confounded, unsure of what caused the horrifying disease. When cholera reached Mexico in 1833, it killed 15,000 people.
Cholera Was So Deadly That Bodies Were Buried In Mass Graves To Prevent The Disease's Spread
As cholera swept across Mexico, killing thousands, corpses were buried quickly to prevent the spread of the disease. In the 1830s, no one knew exactly how cholera infected its victims – not until a London doctor named John Snow proved that cholera was a waterborne disease in 1854 – and even then, most dismissed Snow until the rise of the germ theory of disease.
Mass graves were seen as the safest way to protect the living from cholera. Some reports even claimed that victims of cholera were thrown into mass graves before they were fully dead, which may help explain the tortured expression on the faces of the screaming mummies.
The World’s Smallest Mummy Is A Fetus Whose Mother Died Of Cholera
The Museo de las Momias also has a display featuring a pregnant mummy and her mummified fetus. The woman died of cholera, which also killed her fetus, and both were mummified in the arid climate of Guanajuato. The mummified fetus is the world’s smallest – and youngest – mummy.
In 2007, a team of researchers from Texas State University-San Marcos and Quinnipiac University examined the mummies at the Museo de las Momias. Dr. Jerry Melbye determined that the fetus truly is the world’s youngest mummy. When the fetus died, it was approximately 24 weeks old, nearing the third trimester.