Student looks at millennia old mummy at Sanna University Mudeum, Yemen.

Civil War in Yemen Threatens Millennia-Old Mummies and Other Cultural Treasures

(Read the article on one page)

It is estimated that the civil war in Yemen has caused the death of thousands of people and has pushed millions to the brink of famine during the past two years. Now it’s starting to damage the nation’s cultural treasures by destroying ancient mummies, a unique part of the country's rich history.

Yemen’s Civil War’s Consequences Now Threaten the Dead

Yemen’s civil war has taken countless lives during these past two years. While famine and disease spreads all over the country, it has now begun to have negative effects on the dead as well. A collection of millennia-old mummies at Sana’a University Museum in the Yemeni capital is one of the many potential victims of the catastrophic war’s consequences.

Protest in Sanaa, Yemen (February 3, 2011)

Protest in Sanaa, Yemen (February 3, 2011) ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

With no steady electric power and the nation’s ports under occupation, scientists are doing all they can to save the twelve mummies from the heat, humidity and a lack of preservative chemicals. Some of the mummies, from polytheistic kingdoms that dominated the area around 400 BC, still have teeth and strands of hair. "These mummies are tangible evidence of a nation's history, but even our mummies are affected by the war,” Abdulrahman Jarallah, head of the archaeology department at Sanaa University, told AFP. And he continues, "Mummies need a suitable, controlled environment and regular care, including sanitization every six months. Some of them have begun to decay as we cannot secure electricity and the proper preservative chemicals, and we're struggling to control the stench. We're concerned both for the conservation of the mummies and for the health of those handling them."

View of the City of Sana’a rooftops

View of the City of Sana’a rooftops ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Not the Only Mummies in Danger

Unfortunately, the mummies in Yemen are not the only ones facing destruction at the moment due to human intrusion. As April Holloway reported in a previous Ancient Origins article , the Chinchorro mummies of Chile, which have been preserved for at least 7,000 years, are turning into black slime due to rising humidity levels causing bacterial growth on the skin. More than one hundred mummies – the oldest in the entire world – are turning gelatinous as a result of the rapidly spreading bacteria and Chilean researchers are desperately seeking funds to preserve the deteriorating mummies before they are lost for good.

Chinchorro mummy, one of the oldest preserved in the world, at the museum in San Miguel de Azapa, Arica, Chile.

Chinchorro mummy, one of the oldest preserved in the world, at the museum in San Miguel de Azapa, Arica, Chile. ( CC BY 2.0 )

Chinchorro mummies are one of the wonders of Andean archaeology and appear to reflect the spiritual beliefs of the ancient Chinchorro people, although the exact reason why they mummified their dead is unknown. Some scholars maintain that it was to preserve the remains of their loved ones for the afterlife, while another commonly accepted theory is that there was an ancestor cult of sorts, since there is evidence of both the bodies traveling with the groups and of being placed in positions of honor during major rituals, as well as a delay in the final burial itself.

Despite surviving for at least seven millennia, they began deteriorating about 10 years ago, when moisture began to allow bacteria to grow, said Ralph Mitchell, a Harvard University professor emeritus of applied biology. About 120 mummies, which radiocarbon dating dates from 5050 BC and before, are rapidly deteriorating in the archaeological museum of the University of Tarapacá in Arica, Chile. Only around 300 Chinchorro mummies have been discovered over the years (the 120 endangered constitutes 40% of them) and thus it is essential they are protected in order to preserve the last traces of this fascinating ancient culture.

Zabid, Yemen. 1000 years ago it was among the most sophisticated centers of learning in Arabia.

Zabid, Yemen. 1000 years ago it was among the most sophisticated centers of learning in Arabia. (CC BY 2.0 )

Yemen’s Culture and People Will Endure

The conflicts in Yemen have also caused an air and naval blockade on Huthi-controlled Red Sea ports that are some of the most important entry points for food and aid. The UN recently estimated that nearly sixty percent of Yemen's population is at risk of famine.

Comments

Re: The Chinchorro mummies. Since artifacts are generally cased in lucite, Why can't the air be evacuated and replaced with helium? No chemical reactions, and no bacterial growth.

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

Top image: Archaeologists looking at aerial photography found what they thought to be a hidden long barrow, or Neolithic burial chamber, hidden beneath a wheat field.
This summer, the University of Reading Archaeology Field School excavated one of the most extraordinary sites we have ever had the pleasure of investigating. The site is an Early Neolithic long barrow known as “Cat’s Brain” and is likely to date to around 3,800BC. It lies in the heart of the lush Vale of Pewsey in Wiltshire, UK, halfway between the iconic monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury.

Myths & Legends

Ancient Race of White Giants Described in Native Legends From Many Tribes
Several Native American tribes have passed down legends of a race of white giants who were wiped out. We’ll take a look at a few such legends, including those among the Choctaw and the Comanches of the United States down to the Manta of Peru.

Ancient Places

A photo of the interior of the Siebenberg House.
The Siebenberg House is a house / museum located in the Old City of Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter. The Siebenberg House is best-known for the archaeological finds that have been made beneath the present structure. The excavations under the house have revealed several archaeological layers, and allow one to obtain a glimpse of the city’s history.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article