Xin Zhui: Lady Dai Of The Han Dynasty, The World's Best-Preserved Mummy

By Karen Harris
The preserved body of Xin Zhui. (Huangdan2060/Wikimedia Commons)

When you think of mummies, you probably imagine the dried-out, linen-wrapped Egyptian mummies that have been unearthed after thousands of years in the hot Sahara sand, but the best-preserved mummy that's been found to date is none of these things. The remarkably preserved body of Xin Zhui, Lady Dai of China's Han dynasty, has offered archaeologists a rare glimpse into the lives of Chinese nobility some 2,000 years ago.

The Discovery Of Xin Zhui

The hills of Mawangdui, near the Chinese city of Changsha, weren't thought to be of any archaeological interest in 1971, when construction of an air raid shelter for a local hospital began. That changed immediately after workers discovered an ancient tomb and alerted the experts, who called in an international team of archaeologists to excavate the site.

What they uncovered was the impressive tomb of Li Chang, the Marquis of Dai, who ruled over the region nearly 2,200 years ago during the Han dynasty. In addition to the Marquis, the tomb held a number of gold and silver figurines, exquisite jewelry, and fine silk garments, but the most impressive find was the Marquis's wife, Xin Zhui. After they unwrapped Lady Dai's body, the archaeologists were shocked to find such a well-preserved corpse. Her skin was soft and supple, her hair and organs were intact, and her skin, joints, and muscles were still pliable. There was even blood in her veins. Her face was grotesquely swollen and misshapen, but you can't have everything.