Nobody knows why the ancient mummy of Lady Dai from China is so well preserved!

A Chinese woman from Han Dynasty has been preserved for over 2,100 years and she’s baffled the intellectual world. Called the “Lady Dai,” she’s considered the most well-preserved mummy ever discovered.

Corpse of Lady Dai, Xin Zhui
Slideshow: The tomb and the preserved body of Lady Dai

Her skin is soft, her arms and legs can bend, her internal organs are intact, and she still has her own liquefied Type-A blood, tidy hair and eyelashes.

The tomb of Lady Dai – an accidental discovery

In 1971, some construction workers began digging on the slopes of a hill named Mawangdui, near the city of Changsha, Hunan, China. They were constructing a spacious air raid shelter for a nearby hospital, in the process, they were digging deep into the hill.

Before 1971, the Mawangdui hill was never considered a place of archaeological interest. However, this changed when the workers stumbled upon what appeared to be a tomb hidden beneath many layers of soil and stone.

The construction of the air-raid shelter was canceled and, several months after the workers’ accidental discovery, a group of international archaeologists began excavating the site.

The tomb turned out to be so massive that the excavation process lasted for nearly a year, and the archaeologists needed help from as many as 1,500 volunteers, mostly local high-school students.

Their painstaking work paid off because they discovered the majestic ancient tomb of Li Chang, the Marquis of Dai, who governed the province approximately 2,200 years ago, during the rule of the Han dynasty.

Lady of dai
The Coffin of Xin Zhui, The Lady of Dai. © Flickr

The tomb contained more than a thousand precious rare artifacts, including golden and silver figurines of musicians, mourners, and animals, intricately crafted household items, meticulously designed jewelry, and a whole collection of clothes made from fine ancient silk.

However, the valuable above all of them was the discovery of the mummy of Xin Zhui, the wife of Li Chang and the Marquise of Dai. The mummy, which is now widely known as Lady Dai, the Diva Mummy, and the Chinese Sleeping Beauty, was found wrapped in many layers of silk and sealed within four elaborate coffins enclosed in one another.

The outermost coffin was painted black to symbolize death and the passing of the deceased into the dark of the underworld. It was also adorned with feathers of various birds because the ancient Chinese believed that the souls of the dead have to grow feathers and wings before being able to become immortal in the afterlife.

The mystery behind the mummy of Lady Dai

The Lady of Dai, also known as Xin Zhui, lived during the Han dynasty, that reigned from 206 BCE to 220 AD in China, and was the wife of the Marquis of Dai. After her death, Xin Zhui was buried in a remote location inside the Mawangdui hill.

Xin Zhui, The Lady Dai
Reconstruction of Xin Zhui, The Lady Dai

According to an autopsy, Xin Zhui was overweight, suffered from back pain, high blood pressure, clogged arteries, liver disease, gallstones, diabetes, and had a severely damaged heart that caused her to die of heart attack at the age of 50. It’s led scientists to believe she is the oldest known case of heart disease. Xin Zhui lived a life of luxury so she has been nicknamed “The Diva Mummy.”

Amazingly, forensic archaeologists have deduced that Xin Zhui’s last meal was a serving of melons. In her tomb, which was buried 40 feet underground, she had a wardrobe containing 100 silk garments, 182 pieces of expensive lacquerware, makeup and toiletries. She also had 162 carved wooden figurines representing servants in her tomb.

According to records, Xin Zhui’s body was swaddled in 20 layers of silk, immersed in a mildly acidic unknown liquid which prevented bacteria from growing and sealed within four coffins. This vault of coffins was then packed with 5 tons of charcoal and sealed with clay.

Lady Dai Xin Zhui
Tomb no. 1, where Xin Zhui’s body was found © Flickr

Archaeologists also found traces of mercury in her coffin, indicating that the toxic metal may have been used as an antibacterial agent. The tomb was made watertight and airtight so bacteria wouldn’t be able to thrive – but it remains a scientific mystery just how the body was preserved so well.

There are lots of unanswered questions, and despite the Egyptians being the most well-known for their mummies, the Chinese were arguably the most successful at it.

The ancient Chinese method of preservation was not as invasive as that of the Egyptians, who removed many of the internal organs from their dead for separate preservation. For now, Xin Zhui’s incredible preservation remains a mystery.

Final words

There could be no doubt that Lady Dai lived a ritzy life and no one knows much about her personal life because of the “secrecy” in the Chinese cultures. She died while she was eating melon, but at that time, she was most likely unaware that her death was imminent and that curious scientists would probe her stomach 2,000 years in the future.

After all, they are still astonished how can a body from such a timeline be so beautifully preserved. Nowadays, the mummy of Lady Dai and most of the artifacts recovered from her tomb can be seen at the Hunan Provincial Museum.

The mummy of Lady Dai: