The Mummy Congress: Science, Obsession, And The Everlasting Dead

Written by Heather Pringle
Review by Elizabeth Garner

Pringle is a frequent contributor to Discover magazine, and if you like easy-to-read articles of that publication’s type, you will definitely enjoy this book. The Mummy Congress is a small gathering of fewer than 200 devotees held every three years in an out-of-the-way locale–northern Chile was last; Nuuk, Greenland is next–where mummies have been found. The mummies might be like those of the ancient Egyptians, where elaborate and lengthy procedures have been undertaken to preserve a body after death, or those whose preservation is solely because of an extremely arid climate and a desiccating substance.

Each chapter describes a different set of mummies and seeks to pinpoint what in their culture might have led to the efforts to preserve these bodies after death. For instance, the oldest mummies known, 2500 years older than any from Egypt, are from Chile, and all are children and infants, even including a few premature stillbirths. The author theorizes that mummification among the Chinchorro started as a way to lessen the grief of parents, who would be able to keep the mummified body of their child, rather than see it disappear into the ground. A fascinating, well-written book on a fascinating subject.