Elaborately Jeweled Skeletons
In 1578, a series of underground burial sites were discovered in Rome that contained the remains of thousands of individuals assumed to be early Christian martyrs. However, most of their identities were unknown. The bones were disinterred and sent to churches around Europe to replace holy relics that had been destroyed during the Reformation.
The receiving churches spent years covering the revered skeletal remains with elaborate costumes encrusted with gold and precious gems. For nearly three hundred years, these relics were worshiped as saints and protectors of their communities. When questions and doubts about their authenticity arised in the modern era, the jewel-covered saints became a source of embarrassment and many were either hidden away or destroyed.
In a new book due out October 8, 2013 titled Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs, author Paul Koudounaris covers their long and misunderstood history. The book includes images of more than seventy jeweled skeletons and stories of dozens more.
Curious History: An Inuit Child Mummy, Greenland
The haunting face of an Inuit child who died in Greenland in the 1400s. In 1972, hunters roaming near an abandoned Inuit settlement called Qilakitsoq chanced upon the graves of eight people. Six women and two children that had been buried in the mid-15th century beneath an overhanging rock that sheltered the burial site from sunlight, rain, and snow. Slowly but steadily, dry winds and subzero temperatures freeze-dried their remains as well as their sealskin and fur clothing. Museum curators today sometimes use a similar process of freeze-drying to conserve unearthed bog bodies and organic artifacts.
Lady Dai, The Best Preserved Mummy in the World; 100 BCE
An oxygen-free case at the Hunan Museum in China now protects 2,100-year-old Lady Dai. She’s been called the best-preserved mummy in the world. When unearthed in 1971, her flesh body was still supple, and her veins contained type-A blood. What accounts for her conservation? Some researchers point to her airtight coffin. Like a Russian doll, her coffin lay nested in a series of six caskets, and the entire burial chamber, with over 1,000 Han Dynasty artifacts, was encased in charcoal and clay 50 feet underground. Other scientists suspect that a mercury bath after death was her ticket to immortality.
Vintage Marionettes; Germany, 1877
The Legend and Mystical Power of the Crystal Skulls
Crystal skulls have undergone serious scholarly scrutiny, but they also excite the popular imagination because they seem so mysterious. Theories about their origins abound. Some believe the skulls are the handiwork of the Maya or Aztecs, but they have also become the subject of constant discussion on occult websites. Some insist that they originated on a sunken continent or in a far-away galaxy created by aliens.
Eugène Boban (1834-1908), pictured above, was the official archaeologist of the court of Maximillian I of Mexico and a member of the French Scientific Commission in Mexico. Ultimately, the truth behind the skulls may have gone to the grave with Boban, a masterful dealer of many thousands of pre-Columbian artifacts—including at least five different crystal skulls—now safely ensconced in museums worldwide. He managed to confound a great many people for a very long time and has left an intriguing legacy, one that continues to puzzle us a century after his death. Boban confidently sold museums and private collectors some of the most intriguing fakes known, and perhaps many more yet to be recognized.
Curious History: Newly Discovered Vampires Graves
The discovery of a 700-year-old skeleton in Bulgaria in June 2012, offers evidence that the fear of vampires is far older than Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
The “vampire” was found entombed among church ruins next to a monastery in the Black Sea town of Sozopol. The skeleton had been stabbed in the chest with an iron rod which was in the tomb next to the body.
In addition, the skeleton’s teeth had been pulled. Scholars believe the rod and tooth-pulling were techniques villagers used to prevent dead men from turning into vampires.
In graves thousands of years old, skeletons have been found staked, tied up, buried facedown, decapitated … all well-attested ways of preempting the [attacks] of wandering corpses.
(Source: National Geographic)