This redefines historical preservation.
In a phenomenon that makes morticians seem redundant, deceased residents of a small Andean town in Colombia have become naturally mummified for reasons that continue to elude experts. The macabre mountain mortuary was discovered over a half-century ago, but new photos of the perfectly preserved people are going viral as gawkers marvel at their near-immaculate condition, the Daily Mail reported.
The bodies are located in San Bernardo, a valley town of around 9,000 people located 40 miles southwest of Bogota.
The petrified cadavers, which belong to people born in roughly the past century, were first unearthed in the 1950s after a local cemetery was relocated due to a flood. Now, a dozen or so of the best-preserved specimens — whose facial features, hair and even clothing remain intact — are on display at the cemetery’s mausoleum for all to see.
“It’s always been a complete enigma,” San Bernardo resident Fernando Barbosa said of the spontaneously mummified corpses in an interview with the Wall Street Journal in 2015.
“It’s always been a complete enigma,” San Bernardo resident Fernando Barbosa previously said in an interview.Anadolu AgencyThe petrified cadavers belong to people born in roughly the past century.Anadolu AgencyThe mausoleum, where the natural mummies are displayed, is shown in San Bernardo, Colombia.Anadolu AgencyIdentities of San Bernardo’s dead are known, and many of their relatives have even posted plaques describing who they were, according to WSJ. “Margarita … was very dedicated as homemaker, she always offered corn cakes and coffee to everyone,” reads one.
It’s yet unclear how the bodies were mummified — a process that involves drying or embalming the newly deceased — sans any chemical intervention. Some San Bernardo residents attribute the phenomenon to the locals’ diet of guatila and balu, two indigenous fruits that are commonly consumed in the region, according to Atlas Obscura. However, that explanation has been deemed a tad suspect, as the cadavers’ clothing is also in perfect condition. Meanwhile, some experts say they’re preserved by the local climate and altitude, which may somehow act as a natural embalming agent.
Displaying desiccated corpses may seem sacrilegious to some; in fact, a Roman Catholic priest criticized the exhibit for disrespecting the dead when it first went up in 1994. Nonetheless, many of the town’s residents say it allows them to see their deceased relatives in the flesh — like an everlasting Irish wake.
Tragically, some children are on display in the exhibit.Anadolu AgencySan Bernardo residents often flock to the mausoleum to visit their deceased relatives in the flesh.Anadolu AgencyIt’s unclear how the bodies are spontaneously mummified, although some think they’re preserved by the local climate and altitude.Anadolu AgencySome locals have attributed the corpses’ incredible condition to the local fruit diet, although that wouldn’t explain why their outfits also remained intact.Anadolu AgencySan Bernardo is located 40 miles southwest of Bogota.Anadolu Agency“Most people who lose their parents put them in the ground or cremate them and can never see them again,” said resident Pabon, who, in 2015, visited his father every two weeks and even used a pic of his remains for his iPhone lock screen.
“But if I miss him, I can see him any time, and he’s exactly how he was in life,” he added.
San Bernardo isn’t the only place that organically embalms bodies. In the mummy mecca of Guanajuato, Mexico, “underground gas and the chemical composition of the soil cause bodies to remain relatively intact after burials,” per Atlas Obscura.
Some residents have even posted placards describing who the people were.Anadolu AgencyThe bodies were first put on display in 1994.Anadolu AgencyNo preservatives? No problem.Anadolu AgencyNoemi Henao places flowers for her missing husband at the mausoleum during a protest as part of the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances on Aug. 31, 2020, in Medellin, Colombia. Fredy BuilesThey bring new meaning to the phrase “historical preservation.”Anadolu Agency