Wed, Nov 01, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Outrage after Kyrgyzstan reburies ancient mummy

AFP, BISHKEK

Scientists have called for Kyrgyzstan’s only mummy to be immediately dug back up after the 1,500-year-old relic was taken from a museum and hastily reburied on the eve of a presidential election in a decision celebrated by self-professed psychics.

The female mummy was put back in the ground in the middle of last month in the same dusty corner of southern Kyrgyzstan where it was discovered in 1956 after a sudden ruling by a state commission.

The decision was made despite strong opposition from the only archeologist on the commission and former Kyrgyz minister of culture, information and tourism Tugelbai Kazakov, who played the decisive role in the call, resigned on Saturday.

Kazakov said the mummy had been largely neglected by scientists and the nation lacked the finances to keep it in good condition, but some have said the timing of the reburial — on the eve of a bitterly fought presidential election — indicates the influence of superstitions that have gripped the central Asian nation’s turbulent politics in the past.

The reburial decision was celebrated by self-styled psychics in the Muslim-majority state, who had warned that disaster loomed if the mummy remained vacuum-packed in a state museum.

Self-described medium Zamira Muratbekova claimed she received a message from the spiritual world commanding authorities to rebury the mummy.

“She never died,” Muratbekova said. “When they first found her she was still alive. She was like a sleeping girl.”

“By reburying her we saved ourselves from bloodletting at the election,” she said, adding that heeding scientists’ calls to re-exhume the body would be a grave mistake. “Before, the spirits spoke to us in terms of suggestions, but now they are giving us orders.”

Kadycha Tashbayeva, the nation’s head archeologist who sat on the commission, indicated the decision might have been influenced by the advice of psychics.

“You would think these people are just cultists and marginals, but they talk and then the state echoes their position,” Tashbayeva said.

While Islam is the main religion in Kyrgyzstan, shamanic practices and cultural superstition have deep roots in the nation of 6 million.

In 2011, lawmakers slaughtered seven sheep in the legislature to exorcise “evil spirits.”

Outgoing Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev has condemned the mummy’s reburial, blaming “pseudo-Muslims” who “believe every clairvoyant,” but a lawmaker in Atambayev’s dominant Social Democratic Party, who is part of a parliamentary commission that has been formed to determine the mummy’s fate following the burial, is against digging the body back up.

“Is she Kyrgyz? Is she Muslim? We don’t know anything of this mummy,” Kyrgyz Legislator Ryskeldi Mombekov said of the relic, whose death almost certainly predates the birth of Islam.

“Re-excavating her again would amount to vandalism,” he said during a tense session of the legislature last month.

Archeologists from Kyrgyzstan and around the world condemned the reburial as a backward step for science.

“Exhume the mummy and put it back in a sealed chamber in the museum immediately,” said Victor Mair, a professor in Chinese language and literature at the University of Pennsylvania.

Archeologists believe these mummies, which are preserved due to harsh climatic conditions rather than the mummification customs associated with ancient Egypt, are key to understanding historical migration patterns in the region.

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