The Taklimakan mummy at top left is one of a group of mysterious mummies found in the Taklimakan desert area of Northern China in the 1970’s. These remains were found in a series of crypts in a particularly arid region where the soil had a naturally high saline content which hastened the desiccation and preservation of these corpses. The highly preserved corpses, thought to be those of sacrificial victims, were also found clothed in mostly intact garments. The mystery surrounding them involves their largely Caucasian facial features. Subsequent DNA testing has in fact linked these corpses more to European than Asian lineage. There is no evidence, however, which would explain their presence this far away from their native lands.
Both in death and in life, these figures must have looked extremely anomalous to the native inhabitants of the area, so much so that they could almost have been viewed as more distinct from the natives than from each other. That is, all of these strangers, both male and female looked alike in the same way that Western stereotypes “androgify” or remove gender from certain categories of Asian cultures because of their extreme dissimilarity to Western people.. Perhaps their "otherness" caused these people to become sacrificial victims.
Natural mummification has occurred mostly in arid climates, however, it has been known to occur in cool, moist climates if certain conditions are present. Perhaps the best example of this type of natural perservation occurred at the St. Bees abbey in Cumbria where a crypt containing a preserved body from approximately 1300 was discovered in the 1980’s. The body shown at left, found inside the coffin was covered with a wax resin and then wrapped in a lead sheath. The sheath was packed with clay and then placed in an outer coffin. Upon removal from these wrappings, the skin turned rapidly from a pink to a grey color.