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Msaytbeh, Lebanon

Maronite Mummies of the Qadisha Valley

Mummies preserved naturally for seven centuries. 

On July 13, 1990, a team of speleologists (scientists who specialize in the study of caves) discovered the mummy of a four month-old baby in the ‘Asi-al Hadath grotto in the Qadisha Valley of Northern Lebanon.

The scientists dubbed the baby mummy Yasmine and they eventually discovered four more babies, three adult women, the skull of a man, and one fetus that kept Yasmine company for the last 700 years. Yasmine was found with strands of hair in her toes, a local custom that continues today where a mother will pull out strands of her own hair while kissing the feet of her child’s corpse. Other artifacts from the cave - coins, ceramics, Syrian and Arabic manuscripts, household items - date the bodies to approximately 1283 AD.

At that time, the region was known as the County of Tripoli, and the majority of its residents were Maronite Christians. Historically, the persecuted Maronites sought refuge in the Qadisha Valley’s many caves, and it is believed that the people found in the ‘Asi-al Hadath grotto died during a siege by Mamluk invaders from Egypt. The dry air and low humidity of the cave allowed the bodies to become naturally mummified; Yasmine and her companions lay there together, untouched and undiscovered, for seven hundred years.

Today, the mummies can be found at the Lebanese National Museum in Beirut. Regrettably, they are in danger of deterioration. Even substances like phenol, which was designed to help preserve and protect the mummies, can be dangerous to them. Dramatic temperature changes, urban fumes, soot, dust, and pollution threaten the mummies more than natural conditions ever could.

Contributed by
n nitikp
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