How not to send your mummy overseas

Earlier this week, a woman was arrested for trying to send a Peruvian mummy to France by mail. The package was intercepted in Bolivia, and the woman detained. She claims that she did not know what was in it, and was simply given instructions to ship the package. The mummy is likely an Incan elite, dating to approximately 750 years ago (Solar 2010).

Smuggling mummies is not a new crime, nor is this kind of black market trade in general. In fact, it used to be a source of pride among historians and collectors in the West to be able to smuggle this out of countries. In Egypt, smuggling of mummified remains, and general antiquities trade, has been banned since 1835. However, this did not impede smugglers then, and does not impede them now. More successful smuggling was done in the 19th century by individuals taking parts of the mummy instead of the whole thing (Pringle 2010). In 1882, Buckland wrote that many of his historian friends had difficulty in obtaining mummies due to the Egyptian government. He notes that one of his friends adopted a plan whereby “he placed three mummies in the berth where the sailors usually sleep, and covered them up with rugs… the officials thinking that the three mummies were only three tired sailors did not examine further”.

Recently, a more successful venture in shipping human remains was done earlier this week. The Bringham Young University historical department received two skulls in the mail. Investigations into the identity shows that they are likely Anasazi or Fremont from Utah, and approximately 800 years old. There was no explanatory note, and the return address says “Jim Crow, Rt 2-126, Montana” (Penrod 2010).

The moral of the story, if you are going to try to smuggle human remains, find a creative way to do it, or only ship domestically.

Works Cited

Solar. 2010. Woman arrested for trying to ship a mummy by postal parcel. Digital Journal.

Pringle. 2010. Off with their mummified heads. Time Machine Blog.

Buckland. 1882. Curiosities of Natural History.

Penrod. 2010. BYU history department gets strange delivery.

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