Mummies, Alas! Deceive.
No matter how well-preserved they may appear, not all mummies are created equal. In fact, some of the most impressive-looking mummies on display are not what they seem. For the past four years, officials at the Smithsonian Institution and other scientists in Washington, D.C., have been receiving requests to authenticate alleged mummies from exhibitors and private collectors. While the scientists do not believe that many spurious mummies have made it into the larger museums, they do think that there are many bogus mummies in private collections. In fact, they have discovered a little mummy factory in the West. As far as anyone knows, there have been no counterfeits of Egyptian mummies. Making such forgeries would be risky, since a trained archaeologist could easily detect the deception. Instead, the manufacturers of spurious mummies have been turning their attention to making mummies of Native Americans from the Southwest and of white people from the North and West. Egyptian mummies command a higher market value, at $5,000, while the Indian mummies are worth between $100 and $300, depending on their age and location. The manufacturers are quite ingenious in their methods. Typically, a team of two or more people will work together to create each mummy. To fool the scientists, they need to have more than a rudimentary knowledge of anatomy and ethnology. For example, in making spurious Indian mummies, they must take into account the conformation of the head, which varies somewhat in different parts of the country, and they must select objects to be buried with the mummies based on their knowledge of ethnology. They must also study carefully the effect of time on bones and tissue and properly age and smoke the manufactured mummies by various processes such as burying and wetting them. In all of these things, the manufacturers have shown themselves to be remarkably skilled. For instance, in making hair, which almost always remains clinging to the skull even after the flesh has dried up, jute is the common material used. This is fastened to the skull of a cadaver that has been purchased from a poorhouse or Potter’s Field and made to resemble the hair found on genuine mummies so closely that even scientists have been fooled. The skin of spurious mummies is also carefully prepared. In one case that was brought to the attention of the scientists at the Smithsonian Institution, it was found to consist of a cotton or linen fiber that had been finely spun and covered with a glutinous material that closely resembled the waxen surface seen on genuine mummies. In some genuine mummies, the skin has dried and shrunk until it covers the skeleton like a tight piece of India rubber. In the spurious mummies, the various kinds of desiccation are very accurately imitated and would be apt to deceive even the experts.
rof. W. J. McGee and Prof. Thomas Wilson, the former the chief of the Bureau of Ethnology and the latter the Curator of the Department of Prehistoric Anthropology of the Smithsonian Institution, have frequently been called upon to make estimations of mummies which come into the possession of private collectors or exhibitors, and in several cases, the result of the investigation has been the unmasking of a very clever fraud.
A case of much interest is that of a giant mummy, so-called, which was exhibited in one of the private curio shows at the Atlanta Exposition. Prof. McGee, Prof. Wilson, and the late Prof. Goode, the Assistant Secretary in charge of the United States National Museum, were in Atlanta and took occasion to examine the so-called mummy with great care. The man who owned the exhibit told a very straight story in regard to its purchase and fully convinced the scientists that the mummy was genuine.
At first, they all believed, after a most careful examination of the skin, hair, skull, teeth, and such of the bones as were in evidence, that the object was all it was represented to be, and in this opinion they were confirmed by the examination of Prof. F. E. Lucas of the Smithsonian, one of the foremost of American comparative anatomists. Prof. Goode asked the man if he wanted to sell it, and the man finally asked $2,500 for the specimen. While this was a prohibitive price, the scientists had no doubt that they could bring down the man’s figures, and that if everything went well, the giant would become the property of their institution.
All went well until Prof. Lucas, in looking it over for the last time, discovered that one of the bones was a little greasy. He communicated this fact to the others and their suspicions were immediately aroused. Prof. McGee, in again looking at the body, noticed a discrepancy in the putting together of the bones. The distance from the edge of the pelvis to the prominent upper end of the femur seemed too great. Prof. Lucas surreptitiously broke off a bit of the skin and some of the hair and, bringing them to Washington, submitted them to a number of chemical and microscopic tests. The skin at first seemed to be properly composed, but upon examining the hair, it was found to be unquestionably jute.
The skin was then soaked in warm water and worked to pieces with a needle. It was found to be made of fine fiber, partaking of none of the qualities of desiccated human flesh. The sale was therefore declared off, and the mummy was auctioned off and seized by the sheriff for non-payment of dues and rents.
Prof. Martin saw in one of the sideshows at Chicago or Atlanta the mummy of a child, the skull of which had been split open with a blow of a stone tomahawk, which was still sticking in the wound. The child lay in a cradle or coffin hollowed out of a tree. The fact of the tomahawk still sticking in the head, more than anything else, aroused Prof. McGee’s suspicions. And on further examination, the body was found to be an entire fake. Of course, many of these curiosities are less carefully manufactured and would not deceive the scientific eye, although they would pass as genuine ninety-nine times out of a hundred with casual observers.
About three years ago, the alleged body of a drilled woman was exhibited in a store on Pennsylvania Avenue. The man who owned it said that its genuineness had been questioned, and he invited a number of scientists, about twenty-four or thirty, to come to his exhibition room and make a thorough investigation of the subject. Three sides of the man’s exhibition hall were plastered with letters from physicians, scientific men, and others attesting their belief in the genuineness of the petrified woman, “Mrs. Stone,” as the scientists jocularly called her. The supposed body lay on its back and was composed of some material, the texture of which strongly resembled skin. The hair remained intact, embedded in the hard material. Upon turning the object over, it was found that the resemblance to human skin ceased. A core drill was put into the calf of the right leg and showed Portland cement and sand. Another bore put to work disclosed an ordinary lead gas pipe, which made up all the skeleton the body possessed.
In the manufacture of this, and it is supposed, of other objects of a similar character, a cadaver is taken and a mold made. After the mold has been taken, the skin and flesh are removed. The teeth, hair, and skin are painted artificially. It was discovered afterward that a family of five or six persons living near San Francisco had been making a very good living by turning out petrified people for sale. A man and a woman served as the models for the petrified bodies, and the manufacturers could thus cater to the public taste according to the popularity of male and female petrifactions.
Spoils for a Moose.
“Ham Archer’s Family Trans. In the Tree – Issue of June Hunters and Their Game, In Amidst. Me., Dec. 4. – If a small bull moose that two hunters drove through here last week will return a suit of underclothing, a sheet, a gray flannel shirt, and a pair of pillow slips which he took from the yard of Ham Archer, the moose will be allowed to go free and Archer agrees to ask no questions. It was during the Thanksgiving snowstorm that two Massachusetts hunters who were camping near Lake Nictanis started a moose at the upper end of the First Pond. Looking at the animal through half a mile of railing snow, they saw it was a moose, the second specimen of its species that has been seen here this season, and they started to run him down. For a day and a night, they followed him through townships 9 and 10, and on Friday morning they turned in, knowing that their game was on a long tramp over the hills of Aurora. Resuming the chase soon after noon, they followed the animal from Aurora to Amherst, and from here down to the Clifton line. Down by the pond and directly in the moose’s runway was Archer’s house, and beyond the house, on a clear-dotted hill, was a line filled with neatly washed clothing, which the women had hung out to dry. The moose crossed the road ten rods from the house, making a cross-lot rush for the cedar thicket. In doing so, the animal’s antlers came in contact with a clothesline, which it took along to the woods, together with a portion of the family wash. The moose went out of sight in the thicket, bearing the white clothes aloft on his antlers like banners, and since then no person has seen the moose or the garments. The hunters are angry at Archer for putting the washing out to scare the moose, and Archer naturally is sad over the loss of his dry goods. No one has been able to learn the moose’s fate.”
The sun., December 06, 1896, 2, Page 9, Image 21