The Maronite Mummies of Lebanon

YasminPhoto: GERSL

Carefully dressed in three dresses, Yasmine was laid to rest as a beloved infant. The first dress was blue, then there was a beige one, and finally she was clothed in a dark beige dress with silk embroidery before she was wrapped in her shroud. Long black hair found between her toes speak of a mother pulling out her own hair as she kissed her baby’s feet before burial, a custom still practiced today. A silk headband, an earring and a necklace made of mouth-blown glass pearls attest to how precious Yasmine was in 1283 AD.

Grottoentrance MariPhoto: Michel Schbot

Found by cavers in a Lebanese grotto, Yasmine was the first mummy to be discovered there, though seven others were also found including a woman and her baby. The grotto consisted of two large rooms: one that served as a living quarters and contained wells, a stone for grinding grain and a reservoir; the other which was used as a graveyard. The Maronites were followers of an eastern Christian church in Lebanon and Syria, and it is still one of the major ethno-religious groups in Lebanon today.

Maronite keyPhoto: GERSL

One of the fascinating points about the Maronite mummies are the clues they provide about the culture at the time – and how closely it relates to modern culture in the area today. A mother and infant were buried with the infant at her left shoulder, a practice continued today when mom and baby die during birth. The adult woman with her infant had cloth and cotton pieces placed in her vaginal and anal orifices, while today in the Bekaa Valley the cloth is often wrapped in a small onion and placed in the orifices.

Another cultural practice that still survives today has to do with a wooden house key found with one of the women: when a last surviving member of a family dies, their key was is tossed over the roof; in the grotto, the key was buried with her. Traditionally, grieving individuals say: “Pity this family, their house is closed forever”.

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