Ancient discoveries are always incredible to find, especially when they’re entire tombs filled with rare artifacts. Even better is finding a mummy inside the tomb. Well, when archeologists discovered the tomb of the Lady of Dai, they hit the jackpot. Her body was found in one of the most well-preserved states of mummification ever discovered in history, which has provided a great deal of information about who she was and how she lived.

Who was the Lady of Dai?

 

The discovery of a mummy in this condition is quite remarkable and it has told us a lot about the past. However, archeologists needed more than just her mummified body to paint a complete picture of this woman’s life. Thankfully, her tomb also helped them in determining who the Lady of Dai was. A number of factors played into this, including the contents of her tomb and the way in which she was mummified.

What archeologists discovered was that she was the 2,200-year-old mummified body of a Chinese noblewoman, more specifically the wife of the Han Dynasty nobleman, Li Cang. Her name was Xin Zhui, and she died between 178 and 145 BCE at around the age of 50 to 52.

The tomb was in pristine condition

A drawing of the burial chamber of Xin Zhui or The Lady of Dai (ca 213-163 BC), Changsha, China. She lived during the Han Dynasty, 2nd century BC-2nd century AD. (Photo Credit: DeAgostini / Getty Images)

Her tomb, which was found in 1971, was accidentally discovered by workers digging near an air raid shelter. This archeological site is called Mawangdui, located near the Chinese city of Changsha. The remarkable tomb has helped archeologists reconstruct a detailed history of the “diet, agricultural practices, hunting methods, domestication of animals, food production and preparation, recipe cultivation, and insight at a structural level into the development of one of the world’s great and enduring cuisines.”

The artifacts found here helped determine the status and lifestyle of The Lady of Dai. Inside the tomb and surrounding the mummy, archeologists found embroidered silk garments, dainty mittens, spices, flowers, fragrance reeds, boxes of cosmetics, musical instruments, and books and tablets on health, among other items. Clearly, the Lady of Dai lived a luxurious lifestyle, one that she wanted to bring with her to the afterlife in the form of valuable goods.

A remarkable mummification

The mummy of The Lady of Dai sits on display at the Hunan Provincial Museum, revealing the remarkable condition her body is in after over 2,000 years. (Photo Credit: Gary Todd / Wikimedia Commons CC0)

The state that archeologists found The Lady of Dai in was incredible. Her body was so well-preserved, that it mirrored that of someone who was recently deceased – there were nearly no signs of rigor mortis. After having exhumed her body, it was discovered that her skin was still moist and elastic, her joints were still flexible, and even her nose hairs and eyelashes still remained intact. Undigested melon seeds were found in her esophagus, stomach, and intestines, and there was even still blood in her veins after 2,200 years – which was determined to be Type A.

The hand of The Lady of Dai, in extraordinary condition considering the age of her mummified body. The skin, nails, and bones have not decayed substantially. (Photo Credit: Gary Todd / Wikimedia Commons CC0)

The incredible state of the body is likely due to her remarkable mummification. The Lady of Dai was found buried 40 feet underground inside four nesting coffins. She was tightly wrapped in 20 layers of silk and was submerged in 80 liters of an unknown liquid that was mildly acidic and contained magnesium. Her coffins were packed with moisture-absorbing charcoal and everything was sealed with clay to keep oxygen and bacteria out.

Thanks to the extremely detailed and effective mummification process used on The Lady of Dai, archeologists were able to create one of the most complete medical profiles of an ancient individual in history.

The Lady of Dai was plagued with health issues

The Lady of Dai, whose body has been preserved in incredible condition, lays with a near-full head of hair on display at the Hunan Provincial Museum. (Photo Credit: Gary Todd / Wikimedia Commons CC0)

Given the remarkable condition that The Lady of Dai was found in, archeologists were able to perform an entire autopsy on the mummy. This autopsy revealed that The Lady of Dai suffered from a number of health issues that contributed to her early death.

To begin, she indulged in a luxurious lifestyle that caused her to become obese. Her over-indulgent diet and lack of exercise contributed to coronary thrombosis and arteriosclerosis. She ultimately died of a coronary heart attack, but also had diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, liver disease, and gallstones.

Inside The Lady of Dai’s tomb, a funerary banner was found that showed her likeness accompanied by a cane. It was determined that she had a fused disc in her spine that would have caused her severe back pain. This would likely have made movement difficult for her, which certainly didn’t help her already sedentary lifestyle. All of these conditions together caused The Lady of Dai to die relatively young.

The mummy has begun to decay

A likeness of The Lady of Dai from her younger years, before multiple ailments and obesity, is on display at the Hunan Provincial Museum. (Photo Credit: Huangdan2060 / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

After her discovery, The Lady of Dai began to deteriorate due to oxygen exposure when her body was removed from its vat of liquid and her four coffins. Experts have been able to slow her body’s decay thanks to a secret solution that’s injected into her veins. She remains in good condition, similar enough to that in which she was found.