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Team of Experts Unravel Mystery of Mummy Bundles Currently on Display

November 10, 2017

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Team of Experts Unravel Mystery of Mummy Bundles Currently on Display in Mummies of the World: The Exhibition

Research, initiated with Saint Luke’s Health System, reveals mummies
to be rare and culturally significant.

KANSAS CITY, MO - Today, Dr. Randall Thompson, cardiologist with Saint Luke’s Health System made public initial results of an extensive, fascinating and international research project that spanned the last two months.  The subjects of the research were two mummy bundles, on loan from the Kansas City Museum and currently on display in Mummies of the World: The Exhibition, which closes January 1st at Union Station.

Led by Dr. Thompson – also a member of the international HORUS Group of mummy researchers – experts from Kansas City, Minnesota, California, Miami, Egypt, Europe, Mexico and Peru have studied CT Scans -- imaged at Saint Luke’s Hospital on September 6th -- and applied their extensive knowledge to uncover the mysteries of the two mummy bundles.

“Nearly 75,000 people have visited Mummies of the World at Union Station since it opened on June 20,” George Guastello, Union Station president and CEO, said. “While each of the 35 mummies in the exhibition is extraordinary, the two bundle mummies have especially captured the public’s attention and curiosity – just as they did when they were on display between 1940 and 1960 at the Kansas City Museum. When and where did these people live? How have the baskets that encase the mummies remained so intact? Why are the baskets open around the head and feet? Were these children or adults? Men or Women? Using science, we have real answers.”

The two mummy bundles arrived in Kansas City in 1921, obtained by one of Kansas City Museum’s first board members, R. Bryson Jones. Jones acquired the mummy bundles during a trip to La Paz, Bolivia. Other than that, very little has been known about the mummies, until now.

“Studying ancient mummies is like opening a window into a world long gone,” Dr. Randall Thompson, Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute cardiologist, said. “Over the last few months, we’ve worked to unlock the mummy bundle secrets. The application of modern science has allowed us a unique view to reveal details previously not possible. We not only researched the actual mummies, but also studied the cultures from which they likely came. Together, we’ve assembled an informed and fascinating glimpse into the lives of these ancient people.”

Below is a brief overview of the teams’ findings with research still on-going. (Additional details are included in the attached addendum.)

Runa* – Mummy A

  • Male – young adult at time of death – 20 to 30 years old
  • Complete skeleton with no obvious signs of trauma

  • Abnormal skull shape (oblong), a result of ancient cultural skull modifications using textiles to warp and shape the skull from very young age – a technique called annular modification
  • He was a small man, standing just 5’1 in height based on the recording of the maximum lengths of six long bones.

Warmi* – Mummy B

  • Female – young adult at time of death – 20 to 30 years old

  • Skeleton without skull – in upright, sitting crossed position

  • The bones are low in mineral density, possibly because of numerous pregnancies or poor nutrition, although post-mortem changes are a possibility.
  • She was short in stature, about 4-feet 9-inches tall, based on measurements of the leg bones.

Burial Baskets

  • The intricately crafted basket, more so than others, suggests these individuals were revered in their community and certainly had sufficient family wealth to put toward such elaborate funerary treatment
  • Incan mummies were actually treated as if they were still alive. They were taken to major festivals or to visit other mummies and even fed at the dinner table. This explains the openings in the baskets at the head and feet.
  • Were likely placed and found in a “Chullpa” or funerary tower with other family members

Mummies of the World: The Exhibition at Union Station has generated outstanding guest interaction and feedback,” Guastello, said. “As with every exhibition, we try to include local feature elements.  Before opening Mummies of the World, we recalled the two mummy bundles and invited the Kansas City Museum to be part of this experience.  Those mummies had been out of public view for nearly 70 years, but now are teaching cultural and historic lessons once again.  And, of course, none of the current mysteries-revealed excitement would be possible without the priceless research conducted by Saint Luke’s Health System and Dr. Thompson.  When Union Station asked them to participate, they didn’t hesitate for even a moment.  We really appreciate that kind of endorsement and enthusiastic partnership.  Ultimately, the public is the beneficiary of their expertise, just as it should be.”

For an in-person opportunity to hear directly from Dr. Thompson as he covers the complete research findings, Union Station will host a FREE public lecture on Saturday, December 2nd at the Station.  A reservation form will be available starting Monday, November 13th.  Watch Union Stations’ Facebook page for details and a reservation link.

Mummies of the World is currently featured in the Bank of America Gallery at Union Station and is open daily for public visits thru January 1, 2018. Individual and group tickets are available, with prices starting at $12.95* for Union Station Members and $10 for students in school groups. For hours and ticket information visit www.UnionStation.org

* The mummies were previously unnamed. They are now identified as “Warmi”, meaning woman and “Runa”, meaning man. These names come from Amyra language, native to both Bolivia and Peru.

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ADDENDUM

On Sept. 6, 2017, two mummy bundles, on loan from the Kansas City Museum and currently on display in the Mummies of the World exhibition at Union Station, arrived early in the morning at Saint Luke’s Hospital – Plaza location where, for the first time they underwent extensive CT scanning.

Officials at Union Station and Saint Luke’s hoped that information gained through the scans and other sophisticated research would provide a window into the life and death of these two ancient individuals, thus unraveling nearly 100 years of mystery since their 1921 arrival in Kansas City and subsequent donation to the Kansas City Museum.

Saint Luke’s cardiologist and renowned mummy expert, Dr. Randall Thompson led the research, which included an international team from the HORUS Group (mummy researchers).  Simultaneously, these experts from Kansas City, Minnesota, California, Miami, Egypt, Europe, Mexico and Peru applied their extensive knowledge.  And now, after 8 weeks, their findings are ready to be revealed.

Because the reports are numerous and contain great detail, we have highlighted some of the most remarkable findings, for your convenience.

Please also note that as the mummy research began to shape understandings of these two individuals, the team – in an effort to humanize the two mummies - assigned names to each.  Those names are “Warmi”, meaning woman and “Runa”, meaning man. These names come from Amyra, one of the historically-spoken languages around Lake Titicaca, believed to be the origin of the mummies.
 

“Runa”

  • Runa is a complete skeleton of a young adult male approximately 20 to 25 years old.
  • The sex was determined by measuring the maximum diameter of the femur heads, and observation of sexual traits in the cranium and in the pelvis.
  • His living stature is 156 cm or 5’1” in height, based on the recording of the maximum lengths of six long bones.
  • No anomalies and/or pathological tissue were identified.
  • No obvious signs of trauma were found.
  • The dentition – meaning the arrangement or condition of the teeth is very poor with a high degree of attrition, which may not support the young age estimate.
  • Abnormal skull shape (oblong), is a result of ancient cultural skull modifications using textiles to wrap and shape the skull from a very young age – a technique called annular modification.
  • The skull also features two burr holes, called trepanations.  Although ancient people in South America performed trepanations, characteristics of these holes suggest possible post-mortem creation of one of them.
  • Carbon 14 testing dates Runa’s death between the years of 1367 to 1427

 “Warmi”

  • Warmi is a mummified female human body found in a flexed position within a bundle/cover made up by plant material.
  • The head has been removed – perhaps for ceremonial purposes - along with the seven cervical vertebrae, post-mortem and were not included in the CT data or this report.
  • The remaining body is in excellent shape.
  • Skeletal elements suggest the body of a young adult female with normal/abnormal changes in the vertebral column, which most likely is a natural and ‘non-pathological’ anomaly, but also is similar to what can be found in proven cases of vertebrae tuberculosis (TB).
  • Warmi’s bones are low in mineral density, possibly because of numerous pregnancies or poor nutrition, although post-mortem changes are also a possibility.  There is a compression fracture in one of the vertebrae, likely caused by the poor bone density.
  • It is likely that Warmi lived to an approximate age of 20 to 25 yrs. old, standing only about 4’8” tall

Burial Baskets

  • Researchers compared the basketry of both mummy bundles to sketches of fairly typical highland Andean mummy bundles and found compelling similarities. This supports the Kansas City Museum’s documentation regarding their purchase in La Paz, Bolivia.
  • The drawings show the cordage wrapping the body and other contents, but leaving openings for both the facial area and toes. Both mummies have similar openings.
  • Whether permanently buried or temporarily interred, Incan mummies were actually treated as if they were still alive. They were taken to major festivals or to visit other mummies, taken out and danced with and even fed at the dinner table. This explains the purpose of the openings at the head and feet.
  • The examination of both the photographic images and the CT scans of the Bundle Mummies have allowed the research team to isolate two possible components of different vegetal materials. These materials create a very stable and extremely strong “exoskeleton” which allowed minimal damage during the periodic removal, exhibition and rituals as mentioned above.
  • The first is Furcraea foetida (Green-aloe or Mauritius-hemp), a species of flowering plant native to the Caribbean and South America. Its leaves are used to produce a natural fiber similar to sisal, still used in the making of modern rugs.
  • The other vegetal material, found in the coiled, basal area of the bundle, is more of a grass-like filler material and seems to appear clearly in two areas: just above the feet and at the rear of the basal area in relation to the frontal norm of the bundle. A particularly common species in the highlands of Peru is Jarava ichu, commonly known as Peruvian feathergrass.
  • Carbon 14 testing dates one of the baskets to the approximate age of 530 - 590 years old.
  • The Inca traditionally placed their ancestors – in these burial baskets - within caves or accessible burial towers called chullpas so they could be easily removed for post-mortem rituals. Due to the fact that both mummies were purchased at the same time and are believed to be the same age, it is possible they were related – perhaps husband and wife or brother and sister. 

Likely Origin

  • Alpine or highland area between modern Peru and Bolivia – near Lake Titicaca.
  • Area was part of Tiwanaku Empire dating from 300 – 1150.
  • Became part of Inca Empire starting in about 1471 through the time of Spanish conquest.
  • At an altitude of 3,800 meters (12,500 feet), Lake Titicaca is the world's highest navigable lake. The surrounding tundra plain was the location of Tiwanaku, the capital of one of the most important Andean cultures during the first millennium CE. The lake was also considered to be the center of the cosmos and origin of the sun, moon, stars, and humankind and, consequently, was one of the most sacred sites for the Inca civilization.
  • The area around the lake was first settled in the mid-second millennium BCE. As with other similar cultures, the llama, vicuna, and alpaca were a source of wool, transport, and, if necessary, food. The lake provided fish and totora reeds which were used to make boats, roofs and mats. Potatoes, quinoa, and oca were also cultivated and metals such as gold, copper and tin were extracted from the nearby mountains.
  • After a long decline, Lake Titicaca once again became an important area with the rise of the Inca Empire during the 15th and 16th centuries CE.
  • Evidence points to a system of ancestor worship at Tiwanaku. The preservation, use, and reconfiguration of mummy bundles and skeletal remains, as with the later Inca, suggests this is the case. Later cultures within the area made use of large "above ground burial chambers or towers for the social elite . . . known as chullpas. The first towers can be dated back to 200 BC, but the practice only becomes widespread in the Andes in the Late Intermediate period between 1000 AD and 1476. Most of the chullpas around Lake Titicaca appear to have been built in between the 14th and the 15th century.