This Shockingly Well-Preserved Mummy Told Many Secrets... and Didn't Come From Egypt

Xin Zhui, Lady Dai as she was in her prime. Model created from casts taken of her body. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

The Mummy of Lady Dai

 The body that lay beneath the layers of silk and clay was extraordinary. For although archaeologists knew Lady Dai died 2000 years previously, she seemed recently dead. The Lady’s black hair was her own and still intact- as was her eyebrows and eyelashes. Even her nostril hairs remained in place.  As for Xin Zhui’sskin, this too remained uncorrupted. It was moist and soft, and even the fingerprints were discernable. The muscles and tendons beneath her flesh were similarly un-degraded and her so pliable they could be manipulated. Lady Dai’s internal organs also remained. Even her veins had survived; some still containing drops of her Type A blood.

Chinese Western Han (202 BC – 9 AD) era lacquerware and lacquer tray unearthed from Lady Dai’s tomb. Picture credit: drs2biz. Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Lady Dai’s body was in such good condition that experts were able to subject her to a full gynaecological study and an autopsy. Surgeons from Hunan’s Provincial Medical Institution began their investigations on December 14, 1972, with one surgeon concentrating on the lady’s head and the other the rest of her body. What they discovered offered a remarkable insight into Lady Dai’s life and death.

The surgeons discovered that Xin Zhui lived to around 50 years of age- a respectable age for her era. However, while Lady Dai managed to outlive her husband by 18 years and even her son, her lifestyle and health were not perfect. For Lady Dai’s luxurious, pampered lifestyle had taken its toll. A renown beauty in her youth, by the time she died, the Lady was massively overweight, her face overshadowed by double chins and her mobility impaired by a fused spinal disc that besides being acutely painful would have made exercise impossible.

This obesity had its roots in Lady Dai’s diet. For besides intestinal parasites, the surgeons discovered that the lady’s rich meals had clogged her arteries, leading to coronary thrombosis and a massively damaged heart. The Lady’s heart and circulatory problems were made worse by the fact that her diet had also caused gallstones that were blocking her bile duct. This condition would have made Lady Dai’s circulation worse-finally culminating in a massive heart attack. The experts believed that this was the cause of Lady Dai’s sudden death. This fatal event occurred just after one of her generous meals-Judging from her stomach contents.