The Mummy Congress by Heather Pringle

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The Mummy Congress , by Heather Pringle

Hardcover - 368 pages
First Edition, June 2001
Published by Hyperion, New York
ISBN 0-7868-6551-2

            Science journalist Heather Pringle was thrilled to learn that, once every three years, the top mummy experts in the world -- there are about 180 of them -- have a convention. She just had to hop a plane for the town of Arica, Chile, on the edge of the Atacama desert.

The next triennial World Congress on Mummy Studies (nicknamed the Mummy Congress) will be held in Nuuk, Greenland.

            The mummy lovers, you see, don't choose the lavish convention sites popular with other global organizations. They choose locations that are the best for mummies. As Arica gets almost no rainfall, which is good news for eternal corpses, it was chosen for the most recent get-together. There the passionate participants would book hotel rooms and hold five twelve-hour days of seminars on mummy hair, mummy DNA, and other delicious topics.

The Mummy Congress : Science , Obsession , and the Everlasting Dead ; by Heather Pringle

"Pringle is a crackshot storyteller....
Her writing is clear, direct and intense."

New York Times Book Review
June 3, 2001

            Chapter 1  -  The Congress introduces this phenomenon of mummy enthusiasm, or "obsession" [author's term], and the lack thereof on the part of the new media. Many of the attendees had to use vacation time from their regular jobs in order to make the trip to Arica. The general media do not appear to share their appreciation, judging by the fact that what Pringle calls the "international press corps" [page 12] consisted of only one reporter, and he was there only to see if it could lead to a tabloid article about mummies coming back to life.

            The text also provides a glimpse into the personalities of the enthusiasts, who like to end each day by descending on the hotel bar to imbibe. All of them adhere to the principle that, whenever someone tells a mummy joke, it's prohibited to joke about the departed ones' injuries or suffering. Then, over their beer mugs, they divide into two enemy factions - the pathologists, who want to dissect the mummies, and the archaeologists and anthropologists, who want to preserve them.

            Chapter 2  -  The Dissector's Knife centers around the author's visit with Art Aufderheide, a world-traveling 80-year-old pathologist who is considered one of world's top experts on mummies. The factional debate is clarified. The opponents of dissection, sometimes called the conservationists, propose the use of medical imaging technology -- CT scans (computer-aided tomography) and the injection of small fiber optics -- to study mummies without destroying them. This faction has become the majority, usually outvoting the dissectionists, who view the dead as sources of scientific data which can serve the living, the only people to whom they own their allegiance.

The complete title of the book is

The Mummy Congress : Science, Obsession,
and the Everlasting Dead
by Heather Pringle

368 pages.   16-page glossy insert with 26 photographs, of which 24 are in color.   12-page 2-column index.

Also available on audio tape or CD links for all available editions ...

Audio book editions are read by Anna Fields

            Chapter 3  -  Hosts investigates the hope that mummies can assist medical science in curing diseases. This may be achieved by the study of how plagues have spread through history. [56] Today the deadly Chagas' disease, caused by the Trypanosoma cruzi microorganism, and spread by insects, is more widespread than HIV in Latin America. [59, 65] Felipe Guhl, a biologist who heads a DNA laboratory in Columbia, has taken the approach of studying strands of T. cruzi DNA found in the tissues of South American mummies. [68]

            Chapter 4  -  Drug Barons explains how the German toxicologist Svetlana Balabanova recently discovered that analysis of a human hair provides a timeline of all the drugs that a person has ingested while the hair was growing. This discovery has captured the interest of police departments, which want to test suspects for illegal drug use. [87] Balabanova raised the hypothesis that such evidence can survive for thousands of years. She tested the hair of eighty ancient Egyptian and Peruvian mummies for traces of nicotine, cocaine and THC. [88] The results were surprising. The mummies contained traces of drugs from plants which experts believe did not grow in their parts of the world. This has led to a speculation that an intercontinental drug trade may have existed a thousand years before the voyage of Columbus. [90]

            Chapter 5  -  Crime Stories describes the discovery of violent acts in ancient history through the study of mummies. For example, the 2,400 year old Tolland Man found in a bog in Silkeborg, Denmark still has a rope around his neck. [109] The 2,000 year old Yde Girl discovered in Holland had been strangled, perhaps during the process of Roman legions battling the Germanic tribes. [111]

            Chapter 6  -  Invaders from the West tells stories of military conquests in the distant and recent past. Investigators still search for the body of Alexander the Great of Macedonia, who led the conquest of the Persian empire. [134] The modern Chinese government, which actively opposes local forms of nationalism and separatism, is alarmed by the Uyghurs, a Moslem minority gradually conquered by the Chinese state during the 1930s through the 1960s. The Uyghurs claim ownership of the ancient Xinjiang mummies, which were excavated in the Tarim Basin, as symbols of their national unity. [144]

            Chapter 7  -  Master Race describes the misuse of archaeology and anthropology to promote bigotry. In the 1850s, George Gliddon, a British Egyptologist who strongly supported slavery, attempted to use mummies and other ancient artifacts to "prove" that slavery has existed since the dawn of civilization and is therefore a "natural" institution. [166] Gliddon's friend, Philadelphia anthropologist Samuel Morton, measured the cranial capacities of skulls in an attempt to prove that Causasoid people are more intelligent than Negroid people. [179] The U.S. paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould has exposed several ways in which Morton fudged his data to produce desired results. [180]

            Chapter 8  -  The Merchants of Mummies repeats a few apocryphal tales about the mummy trade. One of these is the tall tale about Egyptians purchasing mummies by the ton to burn as locomotive fuel, which was fabricated by humorist Mark Twain for a short story [189]. Another is the rumor about 19th century paper mills in the U.S. buying Egyptian mummies wholesale to churn them into newsprint. [190] Many people have believed such legends, and some history books have repeated them, despite the lack of authentication. The author then goes on to tell true stories of the mummy trade. Europeans during the Renaissance pulverized Egyptian mummies to make what they believed to be miracle drugs. [192] To supply them, a 16th century dealer bribed local Egyptian officials to receive permission to pillage the ancient tombs. [194]

            Chapter 9  -  Celebrities considers several well-known mummies. The most famous of these is the young Egyptian king Tutankhamen, discovered by Howard Carter in 1922 after he had been searching for 31 years. [212] We learn how the newspapers, denied access to Carter because of his exclusive contract with the London Times, fabricated the story of the ancient mummy curse in order to increase their sales. [214] Pringle then gives recognition to several lesser-known mummy celebrities.

            Chapter 10  -  The Incorruptibles are the mummies of saints canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. Some leaders in the Church believe that the remains of the saints are associated with miracles to this day, and some believe that these mummies have been miraculously made immune from decomposition. The author traveled to Italy to interview the leading authority on the subject, the pathologist Ezio Fulcheri of the University of Genoa. [249]

            Chapter 11  -  Despots is an overview of several governments' uses of mummies to advance their political agendas. In the 14th century, the Serbian prince Lazar led the battle against Turkish invaders. After his death, Lazar was declared a saint and his body was mummified. In modern times, Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic declared himself to be a reincarnation of Lazar, and led the "ethnic cleansing" campaign against Moslems in Kosovo. [272]

            Chapter 12  -  Children puts forth the hypothesis that mummification through history has been an act of love, based on the survivors' attempt to do all they could for their departed loved ones. Contrary to popular belief, the world's oldest mummies are not Egyptian. They are the Chinchorro mummies of Chile, discovered in the 1980s, and found to be more than 2,500 years older than the earliest Egyptian mummies. [298] Pringle visited with anthropologist Bernardo Arriaza, the world's leading expert on the Chinchorro mummies. Most of these artifacts are the remains of children, dressed in black and red suits and masks. The ancient society had a high rate of infant mortality. The heartbroken parents took great care to prepare the children for spiritual eternity. [305]

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            Chapter 13  -  Self-Preservation places the art of mummification in the context of a drive that most of us share, to preserve ourselves in the best ways we know. In modern times we may follow nutritional guidelines, exercise at gyms, or undergo plastic surgery. The ancients did much the same thing in preparing the soul for its journey in the afterlife. Pringle reviews the latest scientific ideas of self-preservation, including the freezing of bodies by cryonics engineers, and the possibility that a future society will use microscopic machines (nanotechnology) to repair the cell damage introduced by this freezing process. [335]

            Chapter 14  -  Coda is a two-page afterword to summarize a few conclusions.

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The Mummy Congress , by Heather Pringle

Book Description From the Publisher

Table of Contents

The Mummy Congress , by Heather Pringle

 1   The Congress		    1
 2   The Dissector's Knife         21
 3   Hosts			   55
 4   Drug Barons		   82
 5   Crime Stories		  106
 6   Invaders from the West	  133
 7   Master Race		  162
 8   The Merchants of Mummies	  188
 9   Celebrities		  212
10   The Incorruptibles 	  242
11   Despots			  269
12   Children			  293
13   Self-Preservation		  318
14   Coda			  340

Bibliography			  343
Acknowledgments 		  353
Index				  357

          When acclaimed science journalist Heather Pringle was dispatched to a remote part of northern Chile to cover a little-known scientific conference, she found herself in the midst of the most passionate gathering of her working life -- dozens of mummy experts lodged in a rambling seaside hotel, battling over the implications of their latest discoveries. Infected with their mania, Pringle spent the next year circling the globe, stopping in to visit the leading scientists so she could see firsthand the breathtaking delicacy and unexpected importance of their work.

          In The Mummy Congress , she recounts the intriguing findings from her travels, bringing to life the hitherto unknown worlds of the long-dead, and revealing what mummies have to tell us about ourselves. Pringle's journeys lead her to the lifelike remains of medieval saints entombed in Italy's grand cathedrals, eerily preserved bog bodies in the Netherlands bearing signs of violent and untimely slaughter, and frozen Inca princess glimpsed for the first time atop icy mountains. She learns of the extraordinary skills of ancient Egyptian embalmers capable of preserving bodies, in the words of one mummy expert, "until the end of time" of the horrifying sacrifices made by ancient South Americans to pacify their gods; and of the weird mummified parasites, preserved in the guts of millennia-old bodies, that still wreak havoc across the world today.

          Ranging from the famous excavation of Tutankhamen to tales of ascetic Japanese monks trying to mummify themselves, and from the Russians' terrified attempts to embalm the body of Stalin to the fleeting craze for public mummy unwrappings in nineteenth-century New Orleans, The Mummy Congress demonstrates that our own obsession with the preserved dead has a long and bizarre history. Packed with extraordinary stories and narrated with great humor and verve, The Mummy Congress is a compelling and entertaining journey into the world of the everlasting dead.

About the Author

          Heather Pringle is a journalist and writer who has written on archaeology and ancient cultures in numerous magazines including Discover, National Geographic Traveler, New Scientist, Science, and Geo. She is also the author of two books, including In Search of Ancient North America : An Archaeological Journey to Forgotten Cultures . She lives in Vancouver, Canada.

Advance Praise for The Mummy Congress

          "I never imagined that a book about mummies and mummy inspectors could be so engrossing. Heather Pringle has done a remarkable job. I read The Mummy Congress with scarcely a pause."

-- Evan S. Connell, author of Son of the Morning Star

          "A fascinating survey of the different aspects of mummy studies."

-- Bob Brier, author of The Encyclopedia of Mummies

          "Using the last World Congress on Mummy Studies as an entry point to 'our' world, Heather Pringle admirably manages to convey the results of various studies of mummies, as well as the more personal side of mummy research. It has been joked that mummy congresses are meetings of mummies, not about mummies. Heather Pringle certainly dispels that notion."

-- Niels Lynnerup, co-organizer of the upcoming World Congress on Mummy Studies

          "Science writing at its best. The riveting story of intrepid researchers who reconstruct the dead."

-- Paul Hoffman, author of The Man Who Loved Only Numbers

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The Mummy Congress , by Heather Pringle
ISBN 0-7868-6551-2
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