How the Global Bird-Poop Trade Created a Traveling Mummy Craze

For about 200 years, global industry went crazy for guano. Explorers discovered islands in the ocean that were covered with a layer of dried seabird feces many feet thick. The material was valuable as fertilizer, and later for the production of gunpowder. Wars were even fought over the natural resource. Along the way, miners found that guano is also an excellent preservative for dead bodies, as some natural mummies were found buried in guano. These, of course, were taken for profit along with the guano. The most famous of these mummies was found in the 1850s with a plaque that said “Christopher Delano, 1721.”

Upon examination of Delano, British and French scientists determined that he was European and not African, and the amount of wear on his teeth suggested he was in his mid to late 30s when he died. His right shoulder is elevated and contracted, and his open mouth revealed “a death of agony” (though it's not unusual to see a gaping jaw on a mummy). His cause of death? Likely a spear wound to his right shoulder.

The writer of the 1854 pamphlet took liberties with the sparse facts available: “About 1721, the Island of Ichaboe had been the resort of nests of Pirates…. In all human probability, the most satisfactory conjecture that can be arrived at is that the unfortunate Christopher Delano was a Spaniard, joined in some piratical enterprises, and leagued with a gang of desperadoes, from one of whom, while visiting the Island of Ichaboe, he most probably received his death wound in some bacchanalism origies [sic] or sudden quarrel.”

The "pirate mummy" was quite profitable when taken on tour. Other guano importers took note and kept an eye out for bodies. Read about the guano mummies at mental_floss. Link contains image of Delano's corpse.


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