Preservation of Human Remains

Preservation of Human Remains:

One of the fundamental things we must consider when talking about human remains is how they're preserved? There is a great variation in what gets preserved and how it gets preserved. However there are some important factors that are crucial to have the effect of preservation. For example remains will more likely preserve in a constant environment in terms of temperature. The main types of preservation therefore that have been discovered by archaeologists include preservation in dry, cold and waterlogged environments that have remained at a constant state throughout the time in which the remains have been a part of it.

Dry Environment:

Considerable aridity or dryness in the surrounding envirnment can prevent decay through the inadequacy of water. This ensures the numerous destructive micro – organisms are unable to flourish. Archaeologists first became aware of this phenomenon in Egypt where much of the Nile Valley has such a dry atmosphere the bodies even from before 3000BC have survived intact, with skin, hair and nails. These bodies were not mummified or in coffins but simply buried in the sand. Since then archaeologists have had many cases where human remains have been preserved in dry conditions. Bodies have been preserved in dry caves and rock shelters, others preserved by sand and the aridity of the desert, mummification and those buried under ash like in the case of Pompeii.

King Tutankhamen, Egypt

Pompeii - human remains

Cold Environment:

Natural refrigeration can hold the processes of decay in check for thousands of years. These such cases of natural refrigeration generally occur in regions such as Greenland and Alaska and other countries in the north of Europe. More Southerly regions however can produce the same effect at high - altitude sites in the Andes; or the 5300 – year old iceman found preserved in the ice Alps near the border of Italy and Austria.

5300 year old Iceman found in Alps on the border of Italy and Austria

Waterlogged Environment:

Waterlogged sites include all those found in lakes, swamps, marches, fens and peat bogs. In these situations organic materials are effectively sealed in a wet and airless environment which favours their preservation, as long as the waterlogging is more or less permanent up to time of excavation. Wetlands vary a great deal in their preservative qualities depending on the acidity. Human remains, in particular bones don’t preserve well if the ground's pH level is above seven. However if the ground's pH levels are basic (below 7) the remains are more likely to be preserved. Bog bodies, are one of the best known waterlogged remains in northwest Europe, most of which date from the Iron Age.

Lindow Man, Body in the Bog


  1. Great examples and simple descriptions. Thank you.

  2. Who are the two scholars who are remembered by American and British anthropologist as founders of the ethnographic method in archaeology?

  3. basic conditions are not below 7 ph... come on