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Turkey's Aksaray Museum Showcases Mummies Of 1,000 Year Old Babies And A Cat

The Aksaray museum in Turkey is home to 13 mummies, ranging from adult humans to babies, and even that of a once-beloved cat, all dating around 1000 years old. The history of Aksaray dates back over 11,000 years.

The baby mummies in the Aksaray museum, Turkey
The baby mummies in the Aksaray Museum, Turkey

Turkey's only museum that has a specific mummy section is located at Aksaray, the gateway to the region of Cappadocia, this special display is host to 13 local mummies that visitors can go to view. Amazingly, the museum isn't just home to adult mummies, the displays include babies and even a cat, all are believed to be around 1,000 years old.

The director of the museum, Yusuf Altin, said: "With 13 mummies in our Aksaray Museum, we are the only museum in Turkey with a mummy section. There is one mummy in each of the Amasya and Niğde Museums, but our museum has the only section exhibited in this way in our country."

The Fascinating 11,000-Year-Old History Of Aksaray

The ancient history of Aksaray began 11,000 years ago, around 8200 BC, with the first Pre-Poterry period Neolithic settlement at Aşıklı Höyük. Since then, Aksaray and the areas surrounding it were continuously inhabited until the Chalcolithic Age. Between 1600 BC to 1180 BC, the Hittites, with their empire centered on Hattusa in north-central Anatolia, controlled the Aksaray region. Aksaray also saw Persian, Roman, Hellenistic, and Byzantine rule.

Through the efforts of St Paul and his disciples, Christianity started to spread in Anatolia during the first century AD. Christians, who were facing persecution from the Romans, began to settle in safer and more remote areas like the Aksaray region, the area also became popular among priests who were seeking seclusion. Churches and houses were carved into the rocky slopes in the valleys.

Between the seventh and 12th centuries, the Arab-Byzantine wars saw a retreat of Christians to the Ihlara and Manastır Valley region. The ruins of graves, churches, and rock-cut houses can be seen spread across the slopes of the Ihlara Valley which became a major settlement for Byzantine Christians.

Approximately 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) from the Ihlara Valley is the well-known site of Canli (bell) Church, so named after the church, which is a rare example of a masonry church in the Cappadocia region. The Canli Church is a very fine example of exquisite Byzantine architecture.

The famous cat mummy in the Aksaray Museum
The famous cat mummy in the Aksaray Museum

The Mummies In The Aksaray Museum

The 13 mummies that are on display in the Aksaray Museum are kept in special temperature and humidity-controlled cases and date from the 10th to the 12th century and were found during excavations in and around Aksaray. Many of them are from the Ilhara Valley, sometimes referred to as the "Valley of Mummies", and some are from the Canli Church site. Yusuf Atlin said that "All of our mummies are from the 10th, 11th, and 12th centuries. So, they are almost a thousand years old."

Although mummifying the bodies of the dead is normally associated with ancient Egypt, the embalming process was practiced in several other parts of the ancient world. An archaeologist from the Aksaray Museum, Esra Cetin, said, "Mummifying the dead was a widespread ancient practice in the lands we now call Aksaray. Mummification can even be considered a well-known art form."

The mummification process in Turkey was considerably different from the process carried out by the ancient Egyptians. Yusuf Atlin said:

"Of these mummies, the baby mummy is very technical work in itself. Because the mummification technique in our country is different from the mummification technique in Egypt. In this technique, after the person dies, the internal organs of the corpse are removed, the wax is melted and the corpse is covered with a layer of glaze. Then it is covered with fabric and shroud. It is buried in the ground in this way and the corpse remains preserved for centuries after it dries. We bring our mummies from these excavations to our museum and exhibit them. In particular, we also exhibit the embroideries of necklaces, booties, and shrouds on them."

A unique display in the mummy section is the mummy of a cat, evidently a much-loved pet. This display is particularly popular among children and fascinates visitors. Altin said, "We have another mummy, the cat mummy, which especially attracts the attention of our children. Our cat mummy was covered with wax and preserved, probably because it was loved by its owner. So, we have been displaying it in our museum."

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