History Files


Prehistoric Britain

The Outer Hebrides Mummies

BBC News, 17 March 2003

The first mummies to be discovered in Britain have been found in the Outer Hebrides.

Researchers believe islanders on South Uist started mummifying their dead at the same time as the Ancient Egyptians.

Archaeologists from the University of Sheffield were working at Cladh Hallan on South Uist.

Carbon dating

The ancient remains found beneath the floor of a Bronze Age roundhouse are believed to have been a girl aged three, a teenage girl, and a middle-aged man and woman.

Analysis showed the bodies, from 1000 BC, had been preserved using naturally occurring acids and peat bogs.

This is believed to be the first evidence of mummification ever discovered in the UK.

Proof they were mummified comes from the fact that the bodies were gutted and carbon dating has shown them to have died up to 600 years before burial.

Mike Parker-Pearson, an expert in ancient burial practices, said the find challenged the belief that mummification had been practised only in Egypt and South America during this time.

He said: "We are talking about artificial preservation of the soft tissue after death. It is something that is deliberate.

"The flesh after a certain space of time will rot away from even a preserved body.

"We didn't dig them up, then say 'Ah, mummies!', but we thought there was something strange. They were very tightly crunched up and had to have been bound for some time."



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