Outrage after Kyrgyzstan reburies its only ancient mummy

The female mummy was put back in the ground in mid-October. (File photo: Shutterstock)
Updated 31 October 2017
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Outrage after Kyrgyzstan reburies its only ancient mummy

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 mid-October 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 archaeologist on the commission and culture minister 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 country 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 country’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 told AFP.
“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 country’s head archaeologist who sat on the commission, indicated the decision may 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 also have deep roots in the former Soviet country of six million people.
In 2011, lawmakers ritually slaughtered seven sheep in parliament to exorcise “evil spirits.”
Outgoing 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!” said lawmaker Ryskeldi Mombekov 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 earlier this month.


Archaeologists from Kyrgyzstan and around the world condemned the reburial as a backwards step for science.
“Exhume the mummy and put it back in a sealed chamber in the museum immediately,” Victor Mair, a professor in the Chinese language and literature department at the University of Pennsylvania, told AFP.
Mair is among a small group of foreign academics that have studied the so-called Tarim mummies, hundreds of which were discovered in the autonomous Xinjiang region of China that borders Kyrgyzstan.
Archaeologists 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.
Mair said the Kyrgyzstan mummy “has tremendous value in filling in the gap” as a case study between Xinjiang’s Tarim Basin and Western Eurasia.
One of the official justifications for the reburial provided by former culture minister Kazakov was that the mummy was “just an ordinary woman,” unlike Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin, who he said was a “chieftain” worthy of preservation.
Archaeologist Tashbayeva rejected both these arguments and said important facts about the mummy are already known.
“Her gender is known, we know she was quite young — probably less than 30 — when she died,” she said.
“We can see that her skull has undergone artificial deformation, which was a popular custom among nomads of our region and era.
“We could learn even more with DNA testing but we lack specialists,” she added.
Tashbayeva and her colleagues have refused to share a stage with self-professed psychics as local television shows have jumped on the topic.
She accused the mediums of filling the debate with “nonsense.”
“I am worried we are destined for a dark age,” she said.


Tens of thousands converge on California ‘poppy apocalypse’

A woman poses for a photo among poppies in bloom on the hills of Walker Canyon in Lake Elsinore, California, on March 8, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 19 March 2019
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Tens of thousands converge on California ‘poppy apocalypse’

  • More than 6,000 people on a recent Saturday stopped at the visitor’s center at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

LAKE ELSINORE, California: Like Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz,” the Southern California city of Lake Elsinore is being overwhelmed by the power of the poppies.
About 150,000 people over the weekend flocked to see this year’s rain-fed flaming orange patches of poppies lighting up the hillsides near the city of about 60,000 residents, about a 90-minute drive from either San Diego or Los Angeles.
Interstate 15 was a parking lot. People fainted in the heat; a dog romping through the fields was bitten by a rattlesnake.
A vibrant field of poppies lures Dorothy into a trap in the “Wizard of Oz” when the wicked witch, acknowledging that no one can resist their beauty, poisons the wildflowers and she slips into a fatal slumber until the good witch reverses the spell.
Lake Elsinore had tried to prepare for the crush of people drawn by the super bloom, a rare occurrence that usually happens about once a decade because it requires a wet winter and warm temperatures that stay above freezing.
It offered a free shuttle service to the top viewing spots, but it wasn’t enough.
Sunday traffic got so bad that Lake Elsinore officials requested law enforcement assistance from neighboring jurisdictions. At one point, the city pulled down the curtain and closed access to poppy-blanketed Walker Canyon.
“It was insane, absolutely insane,” said Mayor Steve Manos, who described it as a “poppy apocalypse.”
By Monday the #poppyshutdown announced by the city on Twitter was over and the road to the canyon was re-opened.
And people were streaming in again.
Young and old visitors to the Lake Elsinore area seemed equally enchanted as they snapped selfies against the natural carpet of iridescent orange.
Some contacted friends and family on video calls so they could share the beauty in real time. Artists propped canvasses on the side of the trail to paint the super bloom, while drones buzzed overhead.
Patty Bishop, 48, of nearby Lake Forest, was on her second visit. The native Californian had never seen such an explosion of color from the state flower. She battled traffic Sunday but that didn’t deter her from going back Monday for another look. She got there at sunrise and stayed for hours.
“There’s been so many in just one area,” she said. “I think that’s probably the main reason why I’m out here personally is because it’s so beautiful.”
Stephen Kim and his girlfriend got to Lake Elsinore even before sunrise Sunday to beat the crowds but there were already hundreds of people.
The two wedding photographers hiked on the designated trails with an engaged couple to do a photo shoot with the flowers in the background, but they were upset to see so many people going off-trail and so much garbage. They picked up as many discarded water bottles as they could carry.
“You see this beautiful pristine photo of nature but then you look to the left and there’s plastic Starbucks cups and water bottles on the trail and selfie sticks and people having road rage because some people were walking slower,” said Kim, 24, of Carlsbad.
Andy Macuga, honorary mayor of the desert town of Borrego Springs, another wildflower hotspot, said he feels for Lake Elsinore.
In 2017, a rain-fed super bloom brought in more than a half-million visitors to the town of 3,500. Restaurants ran out of food. Gas stations ran out of fuel. Traffic backed up on a single road for 20 miles (32 kilometers).
The city is again experiencing a super bloom.
The crowds are back. Hotels are full. More than 6,000 people on a recent Saturday stopped at the visitor’s center at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California’s largest park with 1,000 square miles (2,590 sq. kilometers).
But it helps that the masses of blooms are appearing in several different areas this time, and some sections are fading, while others are lighting up with flowers, helping to disperse the crowds a bit.
Most importantly, Macuga said, the town’s businesses prepared this time as if a major storm was about to hit. His restaurant, Carlee’s, is averaging more than 550 meals a day, compared to 300 on a normal March day.
“We were completely caught off guard in 2017 because it was the first time that we had had a flower season like this with social media,” he said. “It helps now knowing what’s coming.”