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Death on display at Guanajuato’s Mummy Museum

Please only travel when it’s safe to do so.

The smallest mummy in the world is an almost perfectly-preserved six-month old fetus.

It’s on display at the Guanajuato Mummy Museum in Guanajuato, a lovely UNESCO-listed Mexican colonial town.

Guanajuato Mummy Museum

Guanajuato Mummy Museum

Built next to a cemetery, the famous (and macabre) museum has more than 100 mummies – the largest collection in the western hemisphere.

Many mummies are still wearing their shoes and tattered remnants of clothing.

Unlike the Egyptian mummies at the British Museum, though, these mummies are not thousands of years old.

Guanajuato Mummy Museum
Mother and child mummies

History of the Guanajuato mummies

Gravediggers exhumed the first mummified body in 1865.

More bodies were soon disinterred.

The story goes that a new law required families to pay a burial tax to keep their loved ones buried forever.

If they couldn’t pay, authorities dug up the corpses, mummified naturally by the soil’s minerals.

By the late 1880s, the curious started coming to see the mummies, sometimes even breaking off pieces as souvenirs.

Today the mummies of Guanajuato – their skin looking like parchment paper – are displayed behind glass cases.

Guanajuato Mummy Museum
More than 100 mummies are on display at the Guanajuato Mummy Museum

How did they die?

Many of the mummies were people who were victims of a cholera epidemic that raged through the area in the early 1800s.

To help control the spread of the disease, bodies were buried immediately.

Tragically, it’s thought that some of the sick and dying were buried alive.

One of the Guanajuato mummies
One of the Guanajuato mummies in a coffin

Particularly haunting is the mummy of a woman who experts say was buried alive after being wrongly pronounced dead from cholera.

One arm covers her face, her open mouth drawn back in what looks like a horrified scream.

Mexico Mummy Museum
A female mummy – what her story is, we don’t know…

The world’s smallest mummy was also a victim of cholera – the fetus is from a pregnant woman who died of the disease.

More grisly is the museum’s “chamber of death.”

An open coffin contains a mummy with spikes piercing right through the body and skull.

The plaque explains in Spanish that this was the unfortunate man’s punishment for offending the Catholic church.

Guanajuato Mummy Museum, Mexico
A mummy in a coffin with spikes through the body – ugh!

Fiction and fact

Science fiction writer, Ray Bradbury, may have been the first person to write about the Guanajuato mummies.

After visiting Guanajuato, he was quite tormented by the sight of the mummies.

In a cathartic exercise, he wrote a short story called “The Next in Line” about an American couple who visit Guanajuato for the Day of the Dead (published in The October Country), saying this of his time in Guanajuato:

The experience so wounded and terrified me, I could hardly wait to flee Mexico. I had nightmares about dying and having to remain in the halls of the dead with those propped and wired bodies. In order to purge my terror, instantly, I wrote ‘The Next in Line.’

Visiting the Mummy Museum in Guanajuato

Visiting the Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato (the Spanish name for the musuem) is one of the top things to do in Guanajuato.

But many visitors prefer to skip it, feeling it’s too morbid.

We have to remember, though, that death in the Mexican culture is viewed differently than it is by North Americans and Europeans. Consider the Day of the Dead holiday, where death is embraced and celebrated as part of life.

Certainly, this extraordinary mummy exhibit gives pause for reflection.

Who were these people when alive? What were their stories – their dreams and hopes?

For us, it was with some relief when we finished our Guanajuato mummies tour and rejoined the land of the living outside in the sunshine.

Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato

Hours:

The museum is open seven days a week, from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm Monday to Thursday, open later until 6:30 pm Friday to Sunday.

More information:

The website for the Mummy Museum, Guanajuato, is in Spanish, but Google can offer a translation for you.

Guanajuato Mummy Museum

Other Guanajuato museums

In Guanajuato, we also visited the Diego Rivera Museum – lots of cool art! 

And not at all disturbing…

More Guanajuato reading

You may find these travel guides useful…

Experience more of Mexico!

Read our posts on:

Zihuatanejo | Want a great beach vacay? See the best beaches in Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa.

Mexico City | Fabulous museums. Gorgeous art. A rich historical center. There are oodles of cultural activities in Mexico City to enjoy.

Puerto Vallarta | Where to stay? You’ll love these beautiful boutique hotels in Puerto Vallarta.

Cabo San Lucas | Check out our ultimate Los Cabos travel guide. It’s packed with info on where to play, stay and eat.


Photo credits: © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase 


Have you seen a mummy?

How did it make you feel?


About the authors:

Janice and George Mucalov

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George are the owners and founders of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, luxury hotel reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!

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Ally

Monday 30th of June 2014

I can't believe i missed this when I was there last year, weird but very cool!

Sophie

Sunday 29th of June 2014

I haven't seen nearly enough of Mexico yet; another very interesting town here then. I'm weirdly fascinated with mummies, even the not-so-old ones.

Kevin and Ruth

Tuesday 24th of June 2014

We visited this museum as well. I won't say that we enjoyed it but it was interesting. It's really unbelievable how perfectly preserved the mummies were. Both Kevin and I felt weird about the museum though and thought that it didn't seem right to put these mummies on display like this, it seemed sort of disrespectful to the dead to be put on show like that. Having said that I am glad that we did visit but I wouldn't do it again. You did a great job on the story along with the photos.

Ruth

Janice and George

Tuesday 24th of June 2014

It was a spontaneous, last-minute decision we made at the end of a full day of exploring to zip into this museum. We're glad we did, but the experience did stir up lots of emotions. Sadness for the little children and babies who died too young. A morbid curiosity. Horror over the woman who apparently was buried alive. We actually weren't going to visit this museum - we thought it would just be too "touristy" since it's one of Guanajuato's most famous and popular attractions (probably the most well-known).

Jenn Smith Nelson

Tuesday 24th of June 2014

Have to admit I am a bit creeped out. But also fascinated.

noel

Monday 23rd of June 2014

Yikes these are grisly, the kind of stuff that would really give me nightmares. I think I would pass on this place.