Tuesday, August 9, 2011


   Mummies are a popular part of modern Halloween imagery. But how much do you really know about them? This Halloween season, entertain yourself and your kids with these thirteen intriguing facts about mummies.

1. According to Egyptologist Salima Ikram, the word mummy comes from the Arabic word for bitumen: mumya. Over time, the word mumya evolved into the name we recognize today: mummy.

2. It is believed that the ancient Egyptians began to mummify their dead as early as 2500 B.C. - but the Chinchorros of South America did it first.

3. The Egyptians believed that the dead could enjoy earthly pleasures in the afterlife. For this reason, many mummies were entombed with treasures, food, and even loyal servants.

4. The jackal-headed deity Anubis was considered to be the god of mummification and embalming.

5. All of a mummy's major internal organs were removed and placed in canopic jars - except for the heart, which was thought to be the center of intelligence.

6. In ancient times, up to seventy days could pass between an individual's death and their entombment. Forty days was the average amount of time necessary for the dehydration and embalming of the body.

7. Not all mummies were human. Archaeologists have discovered the mummified remains of jackals, baboons, horses, and even a lion!

8. Unwrapping mummies was a popular, if distasteful, pastime in the Victorian era. Hosts would purchase a mummy for the purpose of unwrapping, then throw parties at which the unwrapping served as the evening's entertainment.

9. Countless mummies were also ground into medicinal powders, or even burned as firewood in areas of Egypt where trees were scarce.

10. When conditions are right, "natural" mummies can be created through a combination of dryness and extreme temperatures. Both natural and artificial mummies have been found in locations as varied as South America, the Swiss Alps, Central Asia, and Alaska.

11. King Tut's tomb was discovered in 1923. Lord Carnarvon, financier of the expedition, died of an infected mosquito bite and pneumonia within weeks of entering Tut's burial chamber. This event is believed to have inspired legends of vengeful mummies and cursed tombs.

12. The movies "The Mummy" and "The Mummy Returns", both from Universal Studios, boast combined domestic box-office earnings of $357,405,273.00.

13. A recently identified mummy was revealed to be Hatshepsut, one of the most famous female pharaohs.


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Scorched earth policy: Blazing trails as proceedings get fiery

Goodness gracious: Pitched battles watched by onlookers
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Pause before a flare-up: Revellers take a breather

   It looks like a warzone or at least a riot in full swing. Fireballs tear through the streets painting the night air orange as young men, their faces emblazoned with fearsome patterns, prowl the streets waging in pitched battles against one another. The incendiary missiles explode on impact – sometimes in the faces of their targets. Pyromaniacs take note. If you love fire – and fireworks or trick or treat are too tame for your taste buds – you’ll be blown away by the Bolas de Fuego festival in El Salvador.

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   Every August 31, the El Salvadorian town of Nejapa is set alight by Bolas de Fuego, meaning balls of fire – though some might consider balls of steel equally essential for taking part. In the kind of event that would’ve been banned or smothered by health and safety regulations long ago in a lot of countries, men in opposing teams fling burning fuel-soaked rags at each other. Yet in this part of Central America, the chaos is semi-organised – and part of a tradition stretching back many years.

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   Some say the historic spark for Bolas de Fuego came in 1685 when the nearby volcano El Playon erupted, forcing the people of the old village of Nixapa to flee and re-establish their homes at Nejapa’s present location. During the eruption, bombs of lava and fire flew through the air, which gave rise to the commemorative ritual. Or so the story goes. According to other versions, the combustive custom marks a more recent violent volcanic eruption and forced evacuation of 1917 or 1922.

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    Further complicating matters, religion is bound up with Bolas de Fuego in the saintly form of San Jerónimo. By one account, the celebration recalls the legend of Jerónimo fighting the Devil with balls of fire. Another story ties the devout figure in with the 1685 eruption, when the fleeing villagers took the image of their patron saint and named a new church in his honour – but as punishment left the image facing the wall because he had not protected them from the volcano’s destructive force.
Whatever Bolas de Fuego’s exact origins, today the festival blazes on brightly. Shrieks fill the air in Nejapa, but the emotion they express is less pain or terror than frenzied excitement. Despite safety concerns – and the ferocity of some of the point-blank shots to face – serious injuries are reportedly rare. Presumably this is helped by the participants’ habit of soaking their jeans and gloves in water

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   One spectator watching kids lighting a melon-sized bundle of rags compared proceedings to the tradition of young hooligans throwing eggs at cars on Halloween. Fireballs may not be so forgiving, but in a country with one of the highest homicide rates in the world, Bolas de Fuego is probably the least of its worries.