The Lemon Grove Mummies: Ancient Corpses from Mexican Cave Found in California Garage
On an ordinary day in 1980, a Californian mom decided to spend the afternoon cleaning out her garage – a long neglected chore. She found a lot of trash and plenty of knick-knacks; some forgotten memories arose but nothing unusual. That is until she came to a carton buried in the back. Inside, she found the corpse of a young girl and an infant. Horrified that something so ghastly was lurking in her garage, the mom called the police at once. The Lemon Grove PD arrived ready to investigate a murder. Instead, they stumbled upon a mystery. The two bodies found in that California garage may have been victims but their deaths had taken place many centuries earlier.
Details about how the two mummified corpses made their way to that California garage are vague. All names have been withheld. In 1966, 14 years before the garage was cleaned, two California teenagers became fascinated with mummies and archeology. They wanted to make a find for themselves and they were a lot more serious about following through with their idea than many teenagers. They had heard that the Indian tribes of northern Mexico had a tradition of burying their dead in caves. The cool, dry air would then naturally mummify the bodies. With Egypt being so far away, this seemed like the best chance of discovering a real live mummy. The duo spent over a month exploring the caves of Chihuahua, Mexico.
The mummies were found in a cave in Chihuahua, Mexico (pictured). Lon&Queta / Flickr
Their hard work and dedication paid off – the pair found not one but two mummified corpses in a cave in Chihuahua. One was that of a young woman, the other of a baby girl. The teenagers removed the bodies from the cave and smuggled them across the border to Lemon Grove, California. However, upon arrival, they immediately encountered a huge problem: what to do with the mummies? The teenagers could not display their find or turn the bodies over to a museum - that would reveal their crime. They certainly could not tell their parents. Before they could work out a good solution, they were drafted into the US army to fight in Vietnam. So apparently, the teens asked a friend if they could store the box in her garage. She said yes and there the mummies sat for 14 years.
When the Lemon Grove PD realized that the bodies were centuries old, they called the Museum of Man in San Diego, an institute renowned for its mummy collection. The police also tracked down the two teenagers, who were then adults. They revealed the origin of the mummies and, in an effort to atone for their crimes, offered to donate the mummies to the Museum of Man. But obviously, the mummies were not theirs to donate. A team of experts in San Diego reached out to the Mexican authorities to inquire about the Chihuahua bodies. Mexico allowed the bodies to remain in the United States at the Museum, first for a temporary exhibition and then later as a permanent display. Had the two deceased been of American Indian ancestry, they would have been repatriated to their tribe and properly reburied. However, the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) does not apply to Mexican Indians. Thus, the mummies have remained on display and have since been thoroughly studied.
The mummy of Lemon Grove Girl, San Diego Museum of Man (public domain)
Researchers have determined that the young woman was 15 years old at the time of death and the child was one year old. They bodies were incredibly well preserved – hair still clung to the head of the 15-year-old and the baby’s ears and nose remained perfectly intact. The cold, dry desert air most likely dehydrated the bodies, which prevented bacteria from living in the flesh and decomposing it. Presently, the most prominent theory suggests that they mummies were not purposefully buried. Given their position - curled up and huddled close together- scientists believe that they died in their sleep. No other cause of death has been determined. No objects were found with the mummies, according to the teenagers who discovered them. Carbon dating suggests that mummies died sometime between 1040 A.D. and 1260 A.D.
Top image: The Lemon Grove mummies (lemongrovemummyinfo)
Atlas Obscura. "Lemon Grove Mummies." Atlas Obscura. Atlas Obscura, 2016. Web. http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/lemon-grove-mummies
Deem, James M. "Lemon Grove Girl." Mummy Tombs. James M. Deem, 2016. Web. http://www.mummytombs.com/featured/lemongrove.html
Song, Sally. "Lemon Grove Mummies." Lemon Grove Mummies. Lemon Grove Mummies, Feb. 2015. Web. http://lemongrovemummyinfo.weebly.com/