The Maronite mummies are eight well preserved natural mummies of Maronite villagers dating back to around 1283 AD. They were uncovered by a team of speologists in the Qadisha Valley in 1991.
Kannoubine Valley was the refuge of the Maronites who came there in the medium of VII century and lived in a patriarch unit there, monks, hermits, populate. The Maronites were persecuted at this time and lived a very harsh life hiding in caves and rock shelters.
The mummies were found in the ‘Asi-al Hadath cave located in the Qadisha Valley, on July 13, 1990 by a group of speleologists working with the Groupe d’Etudes et de Recherches Souterraines du Liban (GERSL). The find was the result of two years of excavation. Initially, the discovery consisted of a single four-month-old infant mummy.
The infant was named Yasmine by her discoverers. The infant was clothed and fully interred only 40 cm below ground, she was laid on her back alone in the grave, her head resting on a smooth stone. Yasmine was carefully wrapped in gauze by the team and transported from the grotto to the laboratory.
Multiple other remains were found following the discovering, include seven bodies (four infants and three adults) as well as skeletal remains of several others.
Yasmine wore beneath her shroud three dresses one blue, a beige dress over it, and a more elaborate dark beige dress embroidered with silk threads over both. Her head was covered with a headdress under which she wore a headband made of silk. She was adorned with one earring, and a necklace garnished with mouth-blown glass pearls and two coin pieces dated to the era of the Sultan Mamluk Baybars.
What is so special about those mummies?
- These are the first (and perhaps the only) mummies of the Maronite people ever to be discovered. According to Guita G. Hourani, who has written about the discovery, “the degree of preservation of some of the mummified bodies” is “astonishing.”
- Strikingly, many similarities exist between the burial of the Maronite mummies and some present-day Lebanese burials. For example, one of the infants had long strands of its mother’s hair between its toes. According to local tradition in some areas of Lebanon today, a mother whose child dies will pull out her hair in lamentation while kissing the feet of her deceased child. Clearly this practice seems to have carried through the centuries. Similarly, today in Lebanon, when the last member of a family dies, the key to the family house is thrown over the roof, indicating that no one will live in the house again. The presence of a key in the ‘Asi-al Hadath cave may also indicate that the last member of a family had died there as well.
- Perhaps the most interesting artifacts are the textiles. These were not only worn by the mummies, they were also scattered about the cave. Their robes, made from heavy cotton, are embroidered with squares and diamonds of crosses and flowers, which strongly resemble kilim patterns of Turkish nomads.