The Mummy's curse? Traveling Mexican mummies from 1800s harbor fungi, may infect public

The corpses from the exhibit were unintentionally mummified when they were buried in mineral-rich and dry soil.
Christopher McFadden
Representational image
Representational image


To anyone a fan of mummy horror films, the concept of a “curse” that threatens the health and well-being of the living is a common theme. But, as it turns out, there might be something to it. 

A recent Associated Press (AP) article said that a traveling exhibit of ancient mummies from Mexico might contain fungal colonies that could be dangerous to people. The issue was raised by Mexican authorities, who have also called for a review of how they are displayed to guarantee the safety of visitors.

In response, the National Institute of Anthropology and History told the AP, “from some of the published photos, at least one of the corpses on display, which the institute inspected in November 2021, shows signs of a proliferation of possible fungus colonies,"

“It is even more worrisome that they are still being exhibited without the safeguards for the public against biohazards,” they added.

The mummies in question, called “The Mummies of Guanjuato” which date to the 1800s, are the product of the burial of corpses in mineral-rich and dry soil. They were exhumed when a "burial tax" was introduced that had to be paid to ensure the bodies had a spot in the cemetery.

Regarding their public display, the main issue is the airtightness of the glass cases that the mummies are displayed in because it's possible that spores could infiltrate the building. The institute suggested that "this should all be carefully studied to see if these are signs of a risk for the cultural legacy, as well as for those who handle them and visit them."

As worrying as this sounds, it isn't the first time ancient mummies were thought to be a source of fungal infections for modern people. The discovery of Tutankhamun, for example, led to a fungus scare of its own. It was said that more than ten visitors to the site, including the British Lord Carnarvon, had died because of a "curse." However, it's important to note that many of those who were there when it was first found lived for many years afterward.

The fungus in question, Aspergillus, was found to be a possible culprit because it can increase its virulence by staying dormant in tombs for very long periods. Aspergillus is a fungus found in soil and dust that can cause lung infections and produce harmful mycotoxins. It is dangerous for those with weakened immune systems but poses little risk to the general population.

Regarding the Mexican mummies, the National Institute of Anthropology and History has recommended that caution be taken when considering what is appropriate for display and how it should be housed to protect the public best.

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