Chunk of UK coastline home to ‘mystical’ caves with human ‘mummies’ inside

Rare bone found with preserved human flesh attached

The word mummification is most closely associated with Egypt and its ancient civilisation.

But the method hasn’t only been practised there, with countless examples of mummification of some sort found all around the world.

You may not think that the UK would be on that list, but you’d be wrong.

Deep inside some of the country’s caves, recent evidence suggests that mummification did, in fact, happen on British soil.

Along Scotland’s northern coast sits the Covesea Caves range, a complex system of deeply hewn tunnels metres deep.

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While relatively accessible — Inverness is an hour’s drive away — they are still Scotland’s, and perhaps the UK’s, most impenetrable caverns.

Archaeologists daring enough are required to walk along perilous cliff faces and slippery moss lands – the journey one team explored during the Smithsonian Channel’s 2020 documentary, ‘Mystic Britain: Mummies’.

The documentary’s narrator described the caves as “one of the most mystic archaeological sites in Britain”.

Evidence suggests that Bronze Age Britons some 3,000 years ago regularly made the hazardous journey to the caves, time and again carrying the bodies of their deceased families.

“For prehistoric people to make the effort and to make the journey would have been really arduous and quite a difficult thing to do,” said Dr Lindsey Büster, a researcher at the University of Edinburgh.

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The ancient people, she believes, revisited the cave so often because there was “something about this place that gave it mystical, perhaps even magical properties.”

When archaeologists first started digging at the site, they found the floor strewn with human bones — remains that were unique and unlike anything ever found in the UK.

This is because the presence of soft tissue was found in the hand bones — almost fresh ligaments. It was, the narrator explained, “preserved human flesh dating to the Bronze Age”.

Dr Büster said: “It’s not something we expect when we’re excavating a site that’s 3,000 years old. That’s a really significant find.”

The body could once have belonged to an entirely fully fleshed corpse, preserved due to the unique conditions at Covesea.

There was also evidence found inside the cave of fires being lit, where smoke would have helped to preserve the bodies as they were laid to rest.

Bodies preserved by smoking and salting, “sounds a lot like mummification”, the narrator noted.

Dr Büster suspects people came to the caves specifically to mummify their friends’ and relatives’ remains.

“I think once bodies began to be brought into the cave and were behaving in ways that they didn’t normally do on above-ground sites, those characteristics were probably well noted and became a factory of people coming back again and again over centuries to deposit their dead,” she said.

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