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9 Incredible Corpses That Never Decomposed

From frozen Arctic explorers to incorrupt saints, the eerily preserved bodies of these long-lost souls refuse to leave the physical world.


Call us morbid, but death can be strangely beautiful. A body sinks into itself and pools out, decomposing until it becomes part of the Earth. Yet there are some dearly departed souls whose bodies refuse to leave the physical world.

Whether it’s due to the immortal work of a mortician or peculiar natural conditions, the following corpses have remained eerily intact for hundreds—sometimes thousands—of years. What would it be like to never leave?


9. Ötzi

Living sometime between 3359 and 3105 BCE, Ötzi most likely died from a blow to the head. But he never disappeared. Instead, Mother Nature preserved his body with the cold mountain air of Italy’s South Tyrol. He’s Europe’s oldest natural mummy and provides a startling glimpse into the Copper Age—his clothes are made of grass and leather, and he carries an axe, a knife, a quiver, and a pocketful of berries.


8. Tollund Man

Bogs (wetlands that accumulate peat) have the uncanny ability to preserve dead bodies. The Tollund Man, of the Jutland Peninsula in Denmark, is but one example of the strangely placid faces that sometimes surface in these wet places. Scientists believe the Tollund Man lived and died during the 4th century BCE—yet the bog had preserved his features so perfectly, locals mistook him for a fresh murder victim upon his discovery in 1950.


7. Vladimir Lenin

This famous revolutionary remains defiant even in death. Despite passing away in 1924, Vladimir Lenin’s body is on full display to the Russian public. The reason? Upon his death, Soviet authorities wanted to preserve his body for future generations. While cryonics was briefly considered, leaders settled on embalming. Today, Lenin’s corpse requires constant care—including injections and chemical baths—in order to keep him looking somewhat alive.


6. Rosalia Lombardo

Little Rosalia Lombardo didn’t have a long life—she died of pneumonia at age 2 in 1920. Her father was devastated, so naturally he called upon an expert embalmer to help keep her around. Thanks to a magical combination of formalin, alcohol, salicylic acid, and glycerin, Rosalia is still here today. Her corpse is kept deep in the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo in Sicily. Visitors call her “Sleeping Beauty” due to her peaceful expression.


5. Lady Xin Zhui

Perhaps one of the most well preserved mummies in the world, Lady Xin Zhui, also known as Lady Dai, was the wife of a Han Dynasty politician who died in 163 BCE. While overshadowed by her husband in life, she gained her own fame some 2,000 years later when her tomb was unearthed in 1972. Lady Dai’s body is so undamaged that ancient blood remains in her veins. Scientists were able to perform an autopsy on the corpse, and concluded that she died of heart disease.


4. Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov

Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov, a Buryat Buddhist monk, made two requests before he died while meditating in the lotus position in 1927. The first was to be buried in the exact position in which he passed. The second was to be exhumed several years after his burial. Itigilov’s fellow Buddhists complied on both fronts. When they exhumed him in 1955, the monks were shocked to discover Itigilov’s meditating frame appeared unchanged. After a second exhumation years later, it appeared as if Itigilov was immune to decomposition. Monks declared his corpse a sacred relic, and placed it on view at the Itigel Khambyn ordon palace temple.


3. La Doncella

Shortly before the arrival of Europeans in South America, a young Incan woman was sacrificed in a religious ceremony high in the Andes Mountains. Her cause of death: freezing while drugged on cocoa leaves. The harsh mountain climate killed the poor girl, yet it also preserved her body. La Doncella was discovered more than 500 years later, frozen in sleep in a slumped position. Archeologists who found her said she was one of the best-preserved corpses they’d ever seen.


2. John Torrington

While on an expedition to find the Northwest Passage in 1846, English officer John Torrington succumbed to complications from lead poisoning at age 22. He was quietly buried in the barren tundra of the Canadian Arctic. But in 1984, scientists dug up Torrington’s makeshift grave and found his corpse was shockingly intact. News of the discovery—not to mention freaky photos of the open-eyed grin frozen on his face—set the world on fire, and inspired everything from a song by Iron Maidento a short story by Margaret Atwood.


1. Saint Zita

Maybe God never took her home. Catholicism’s patron saint of maids, Zita, spent her life caring for those in need. When she died in 1272, many claimed a star appeared over her home at the moment of her death. Zita was exhumed in 1580, and it was discovered that she hadn’t gone anywhere—her body appeared . Zita was canonized in 1696, and is currently on display at the Basilica di San Frediano in her hometown of Lucca, Italy.

Photos (in order): rv1865 / Flickr; AFP / Getty; Jeroen Van Nieuwenhove / Flickr; AFP / Getty; Wikimedia Commons; Wikimedia Commons; Tumblr; Jason Ponic / Hub Pages; Wikimedia Commons