Meet Xin Zhui: The Most Well-Preserved Mummified Body In History

In 1971, workers near Changsha, China were digging an air raid shelter when they made an astonishing discovery. History 101 writes that deep inside a hill were three tombs from the Han Dynasty; that of the Marquis of Dai, his son, and his wife, Xin Zhui, otherwise known as Lady Dai. As Discover Magazine explains, the Marquis and his son were of little interest to researchers as their bodies were not well preserved. Lady Dai, however, was a different story. Although she died in 163 BE or over 2,000 years ago, her remains appeared to be life-like.

According to All That's Interesting, Zhui had hair on her head, eyebrows, and eyelashes. In addition, her skin was soft and her body was flexible. Even more astounding? There was still blood in her veins. It's for this reason that Zhui is believed to be the finest preserved ancient mummy that has been unearthed thus far (per Ancient Origins). But who was Lady Dai? As the Marqui's wife and a noblewoman, Archaeology Magazine reports that Zhui lived in the lap of luxury. Her intricate tomb, which was filled with 1000 items, served to reflect this. Her opulent lifestyle, however, also killed her.

An autopsy was done on her mummified body

Ancient Origins reports that Zhui's body was so preserved that researchers were able to conduct an autopsy on her. Their findings, per History 101, were staggering. Zhui's organs, including her vagus nerve, were unscathed by time. It was also found that she had Type A blood and 138 undigested melon seeds in her stomach and intestines. Researchers theorized that this was likely Lady Dai's last meal. Discover Magazine writes that she was not in the best of health; she had high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, and a parasitic infection. Ultimately, Zhui was overweight and stationary, which led to her death at age 50.

Charles Higham, from New Zealand's University of Otago (via Discover Magazine), explained "She overindulged, perhaps in a feast ... and then she had a heart attack and that was the end of her." All That's Interesting states that Zhui also had gallstones and liver disease. Blood clots in her veins pointed to her cause of death. Discover Magazine notes that although it was custom for Chinese nobles to preserve their remains after death, it was unlikely for their efforts to prevail. Somehow, Lady Dai's body, which was found 12 meters (or over 39 feet) underground, did (per Ancient Origins).

How was she preserved so well?

Discover Magazine writes that the conditions in Zhui's tomb were just right for her preservation. Besides its location in an area where the temperature was cool enough to stave off decomposition (via History 101), Ancient Origins explains that her tomb was also airtight. This created a barrier that prevented bacteria, water, oxygen, or anything else from entering her tomb. In addition, Lady Dai's remains were placed at the bottom of four coffins. Her burial vault was packed with charcoal and sealed with clay and dirt. A substance that has been described as paste-like soil was also found on the floor.

Per All That's Interesting, Zhui's body was wrapped in 20 layers of silk and found in 21 gallons of a mystery liquid. Ancient Origins states that the substance was mildly acidic and contained magnesium. History 101 also describes it as having a red tint to it. That being said, it's unknown what role, if any, this fluid had in preserving Lady Dai's remains. Quite possibly, it could have appeared with time. Nevertheless, the New York Post reports that it's unknown how and why her body remained in a near-perfect condition for thousands of years. The technique that was used to preserve her is a mystery; embalming liquid was not found inside of her body.

Ancient artifacts were discovered in her tomb

The New York Post writes that Zhui has been nicknamed "The Diva Mummy" and with good reason. According to Ancient Origins, her tomb was the definition of excess. Inside, archaeologists found silk clothing, lacquer pieces and wood carvings of her servants. Archaeology Magazine states that containers for wine and makeup were also uncovered. Additionally, there were fingerless gloves, fragrant silk sachets, musical instruments and much more. Willow Weilan Hai Chang later organized an exhibit of these items at the China Institute Gallery in New York City and explained, "These objects show that Lady Dai lived a luxurious life, which she enjoyed very much," she added, "She wanted to maintain the same lifestyle in the afterlife."

Per Smarthistory, a silk banner was also found in Zhui's tomb. History 101 explains that it represents her life after death. The banner, which is in pristine condition, is divided into four sections that illustrate heaven, Lady Dai with her servants, her body surrounded by mourners, and lastly, the underworld. This piece is intended to demonstrate that Lady Dai would enjoy a comfortable afterlife with all the items found in her tomb. Besides material goods, Ancient Origins writes that a plethora of food was also placed in her tomb, including strawberries, beef, goose, and sparrow. Although Lady Dai had a premature death, she is now eternally resting at the Hunan Provincial Museum in China.