Top 8 Most Well-Preserved Mummies In History


Top 8 mummies & ancient faces preserved in time


1-La Doncella

La Doncella is the name given to the mummy of a 15-year-old Incan girl. Her body was found in 1999 near the summit of the world’s tallest active volcano, Mount Llullaillaco, in Argentina. The spot where La Doncella was unearthed is officially regarded as the highest cemetery in the world.

What makes La Doncella a fascinating discovery is the fact that due to the high altitude where she was left, her body did not decompose a bit. Archeologists were shocked to see that this young Incan girl simply looked like she is sleeping.

La Doncella (Photo courtesy: John Reinhard / nationalgeographic.com)

Over 500 years ago, she was offered as a sacrifice to the Incan God of Sun. Scientists determined that before La Doncella was taken high up in the Andes Mountains, she was given chicha, a corn beer that made her fall into a deep sleep.

Coca leaves were found on her lips, which was used by the Incans to decrease the effects of altitude sickness. Furthermore, coins were found in La Doncella’s palm, alluding to her status as a messenger to heaven.

Close-up photo of the mummy
Scientists meticulous examining the body of the 15-year-old Incan girl

As of September 2007, La Doncella has been exhibited at the High Mountain Archeological Museum in Salta, Argentina. A special display was built for her keeping true to the conditions in which she was found.

You can read more about La Doncella here.

2-Franklin Expedition Sailors

History enthusiasts will be familiar with the ill-fated 1845 Franklin Expedition. 129 British sailors, under the command of The Royal Navy, were sent for an expedition to explore the Northwest Passage which connects the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans in the Northern Canadian Archipelago.

John Torrington’s facial reconstruction and his mummy
John Hartnell’s facial reconstruction and his mummy
William Braine’s facial reconstruction and his mummy

The two ships, HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, with the crew onboard ended up getting stuck in the ice for 2 years. In 1847, the crew abandoned the ships in hopes of finding settlements nearby and reaching mainland Canada. No one ever heard from these sailors again and, except for 3, none of the other sailors’ bodies were ever found.

These 3 seamen mentioned above were John Torrington, William Braine and John Hartnell. They died at the start of the expedition in the year of 1846 and were buried in Beechey Island, Canada. Besides their historical significance as explorers, these 3 British sailors are considered to be among the most well-preserved mummies ever found.

You can read more about Franklin Expedition bodies here.

3-Tarim mummies

Tarim mummies consist of a group of Bronze-age mummies discovered in the early 20th century in Xinjiang Autonomous Region, Northwest China.

In total, about 200 bodies were discovered on Tarim Basin, dry lands at the edge of Taklamakan desert. The dry weather conditions of the desert played a significant role in the preservation of the mummies.

Cherchen Man Mummy

The oldest mummified body is presumed to be around 4000 years old. The rest of the mummies’ ages vary from 3800 to 2000 years.

Apart from their fascinating level of preservation, another fact that makes Tarim mummies a big mystery is their Caucasian features, which means that they carry the physical characteristics of European or Middle Eastern people.

Mummified remains of 2 women
The ‘Princess of Xiaohe (Photo credit: Hiroki Ogawa / commons.wikimedia.org)

The most well-preserved bodies are The Princess of Xiaohe, The Beauty of Loulan, Cherchen Man (also known as Chärchän Man), and the Witches of Subeshi and Xiaohe (different from the princess).

4-Tollund Man

Tollund Man is the mummified body of a man who lived in Northern Europe in the 5th century BC. The mummy was discovered in 1950 in Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula by two Danish villagers who were cutting peat for fuel.

Tollund man face close-up photo (Photo credit: A. Mikkelsen / Antiquity Publications Ltd)

The body was so well-preserved and the physical features were so fresh that the people thought he could be a victim of a recent murder. The acid in peat, lack of oxygen under the soil and the cold Scandinavian climate has played a vital role in his preservation.

Tollund man shortly after his discovery (Photo credit: Nationalmuseet / commons.wikimedia.org)

Scientific research on the body concluded that he was hanged for a sacrificial ritual. He is assumed to have died at the age of 40. The beard, eyelashes, eyebrows and facial structure can be seen clearly.

Tollund Man is exhibited at the Silkeborg Museum in Denmark. Today, he is considered the most intact of the hundreds of bog bodies discovered in Europe.

Tollund man shortly after his discovery (Photo credit: Silkeborg Museum / commons.wikimedia.org)

Due to the fact that preservation methods were not advanced in 1950s, the body of Tollund man was desiccated after its discovery. Only the head was kept intact. Today, the body of the mummy attached to the original head is a replica.

5-Juanita (Ice Maiden)

Juanita (Momia Juanita) is a mummified body of an Incan girl, aged 12-15, who was offered to gods as a sacrifice, between the years of 1440-1480.

She is also known as Lady of Ampato, due to the fact that she was discovered on top of the dormant volcano, Mount Ampato, in Peru.

Juanita (Momia Juanita)

When her body was discovered in 1995 at an altitude of 6300 meters, archeologists were shocked to see that all of her organs, hair and skin had remained preserved due to the frigid cold. Unlike the other mummies discovered in the other parts of the globe, Juanita was mummified by cold weather, not by artificial factors. This resulted in her becoming a priceless insight into the Incan culture in the 15th century.

Today, Juanita is displayed at the Museum of Andean Sanctuaries in the Catholic University of Santa Maria in Peru.

6-The Wet Mummy

In 2011, during a construction work in China’s Jiangsu Province, workers discovered 3 coffins by chance.

Among the 3 tombs, the most well-preserved body belonged to a mid-aged woman. When scientists opened the coffin, they saw that it was filled with a brown liquid. However, the body was intact to a great state. How did that happen?

Wet Mummy (Photo credit: Fame Pictures / Barcroft – nationalgeographic.com)
Wet Mummy (Photo credit: Xiangzhong / Xinhua-Gorbis – nationalgeographic.com)

As the subsequent studies suggested, over time ground water had gotten into the coffin. However, the temperature and low oxygen level in the water prevented bacteria to grown, which helped preserve the body.

Wet Mummy (Photo credit: Fame Pictures / Barcroft – nationalgeographic.com)
Wet Mummy (Photo credit: Fame Pictures / Barcroft – nationalgeographic.com)

Everything in the coffin, from the woman’s clothes and belongings to her body, maintained their original condition. She was buried with a number of riches and valuable goods, such as Ming dynasty silk clothes, which indicated that she was of high status.

She is presumed to have died at least 600 years ago.

7-Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov

Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov was a Buddhist lama, born in 1852 in the Republic of Buryatia, in Russia. In 1911, he was appointed the 12th Pandito Khambo Lama, head of Buddhism in Russia. He played an important role in preservation of Buddhism among the Buryats, a group of Mongolian people native to Siberia.

In 1927, he died in the lotus position during meditation. His students buried him in a pine wood box in the exact position he died in.

His body was exhumed twice in 1957 and 1973. The monks were shocked to see that his body did not decompose and deteriorate drastically. However, to not draw the attention of the Soviet authorities, this unusual event was not shared with the outside world.

In 2002, the body was shown to the public for the first time. Today, Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov is seen as a sacred object by the Buryat Buddhists.

Ever since the body was presented to the public, no decomposition has been recorded.

8-Xin Zhui

Xin Zhui, also known as Lady of Dai, was the wife of a high-ranking state official in Han Dynasty.

In 1968, a group of Chinese workers discovered Xin Zhui’s tomb during construction. Moreover, two other tombs, which belonged to her husband and son, were discovered in the site.


Artistic representation of Xin Zhui at a young age (Photo credit: Flazaza / commons.wikimedia.org)

In 1972, Xin Zhui’s remarkably intact body was unearthed. Her skin was still as soft as a living person and it had not deteriorated a bit. Her hair, eye brows, eye lashes and nose hair were in perfect condition too. Her muscles were still capable of flexing.

Xin Zhui’s body was preserved in a mildly acidic liquid, which is still unknown to humanity in this day and age.

During the autopsy conducted on her body, scientists found her organs were not decomposed. Moreover, type-A blood was discovered in her veins.


Artistic representation of Xin Zhui at a young age (Photo credit: Huangdan2060 / commons.wikimedia.org)

Another factor that played an important role in her preservation was that her body was wrapped in 20 layers of silk cloth and was kept in 4 coffins that encased each other.

Xin Zhui weighed 70 kilograms and she was only 128 cm long. Her death was caused by a heart attack. Melon seeds found in her stomach hint that she died less than two hours after consuming the fruit.

She died in the year 168 BC, and was buried with more than 1000 artifacts ranging from drink, food, vessels, clothes, statues, and figurines, which provided abundant insight into the daily life and culture during Han Dynasty (202 BC–220 AD).