Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Maronite Mummies Volume 49 Number 4, July/August 1996
by Brett Leslie Freese

The 700-year-old naturally mummified remains of three women and five children have been found in the Asi-el-Hadath grotto of northern Lebanon's Qadisha Valley. Political strife in the country delayed the release of information about the mummies, which were discovered in 1990 and 1991. Buried in embroidered clothing and cotton shrouds, they were preserved by the cave's low humidity and sandy soil.

Items found in the grotto, including a Syriac religious manuscript and a talisman similar to one used in present-day Lebanon, indicate these people had been Maronite Catholics. Much of the embroidery was copied from Maronite spiritual motifs.

Coins, arrows, ceramics, manuscripts, and other artifacts date the mummies to the thirteenth century, when Mamluk warriors from Egypt occupied Lebanon. Maronites often hid in grottoes during such invasions. Guita Hourani, a fellow at the Catholic University of America's Institute of Christian Oriental Research in Washington, D.C., says that "the way to the grotto is so difficult that to actually select it as a living or burial site during times of peace would not have been practical."

© 1996 by the Archaeological Institute of America