Mummies in the Philippines

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An unusual post by comparison, because it’s not based on a news report. I managed to catch the Fire Mummies of the Philippines that was showing on Discovery Channel (Asia) over these last two days which led me to do a web search about the mummies in Philippines, especially since there isn’t usually a lot of news on the archaeology of Philippines.

The mummies of Kabayan, in the Benguet Province, part of the Cordillera mountain range in North Luzon (the main island of the Philippines) is home to the Ibaloi people, who have a tradition of mummifying their dead between the 13th and 16th century. This practice was stopped by Spanish colonisers who introduced Christianity and the practice of burial.

Like most mummy-making processes, the bodies are preserved by dehydration. The dying or dead person is made to ingest salt water to dry the internal organs. Upon death, the body is sat above a small fire to expel fluids from the body. Finally, the body is sun-dried with the help of the community and placed in a prepared pinewood coffin. The coffins are interred in burial caves carved into the rock through the mountain. The entire process takes approximately two years.

Over 200 caves have been identified, and 15 of them contain human remains. It is suspected that the locals know of the existence of more mummies, but are unwilling to disclose their location because of widespread looting that has taken place. Looting for skulls and teeth by private collectors overseas have led to massive destruction of many of the bodies, while some locals go after fingers and fingernails as talismans for good luck. There simply isn’t enough funding to go around to protect these sites, even after having been flagged by Monument Watch.