중앙데일리

Joseon dead found perfectly preserved in air-tight tombs

May 07,2009
People usually associate mummies with ancient Egypt, but mummification was also seen in Korea, although the process of creation was different.

Unlike in Egypt several hundred years back, Korean mummies were a naturally occurring consequence of the way Koreans used to bury their dead.

During the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), the upper classes placed their dead in hoegyeok, a type of tomb. The corpses were put in double-sided coffins and covered with a layer of a limestone mixture, or hoe. This process completely isolated the body from water and air, which cause decay.

The Russian archeologist, V. I. Molodin, an expert on mummification, said Korean mummies are actually perfectly preserved “dead bodies” since they were not preserved deliberately.

The exceptional quality of the mummies, artifacts inside the tomb and body parts, from the brain to the intestines, has allowed scientists to answer questions about everyday life in those times. They were able to identify not only the cause of death but also what the usual diet was and the rampant illnesses of those days.

An example of one significant find is the 440-year-old mummy who was a member of the elite Yoon family of Papyeong, Gyeonggi.

The mummy received a lot of attention upon its discovery in 2002 because a fetus was found inside the womb, making it the world’s only mother and son mummy.

The case received attention again recently with the final diagnoses of cause of death, a rupture in the womb during the final stages of labor.

A Korea University team of scientists was able to create an exact three-dimensional image of the situation that lead to her death, due to the quality of the preservation.

Not all hoegyeok graves led to the mummification of bodies but one thing is for sure: The Yoon family had not expected or known that the body was going to be mummified as a result of the tomb’s structure.

The location of the tomb or the burying practice was closely related to feng shui, a theory concerning the balance of yin and yang, which were considered crucial to the harmony of life.

The people of Joseon also believed that the faster the dead bodies dissolve and become one with the soil, the more prosperous their descendents would become.


By Hannah Kim Contributing Writer [estyle@joongang.co.kr]



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