Almost 200 years ago a very unusual mummy was discovered in Kentucky's Mammoth Cave. A few things about the mummy challenge what we have been taught to believe about our history, particularly the extent of travel or influence of the ancient Egyptians. The mummy is known as the Fawn Hoof Mummy and it was what was largely responsible for making Mammoth Cave famous.
Somewhere between 1811 and 1813 (different authors vary on the date) a group of miners were working in the Kentucky Caves, particularly in Short Cave. A worker was digging into the clay when he hit upon a large flat rock. When the rock was removed a crypt containing a mummy was discovered.
In 1816 Nahum Ward, of Ohio, visited Mammoth Cave and bought the Fawn Hoof Mummy. Ward also purchased several other mummies and sets of artifacts, some of them as old as 2,400 years at the time. Over the next few years much of Ward's collection was put on display to the public in traveling oddities shows. The Fawn Hoof Mummy was taken first to Lexington, Kentucky and later moved to the American Antiquarian Society.
In Prehistoric Mummies from the Mammoth Cave Area, editor Angelo I. George wrote that the mummy was discovered during September 1811. He also wrote that the name "Fawn Hoof" was given to the mummy in 1853. Thousands of people saw the mummy when it was put on display at two World Fairs.
Isaiah Thomas, founder of the American Antiquarian Society, finally transferred the Fawn Hoof Mummy the Smithsonian Institution in 1876. By that time it had suffered some damage from being moved around and improperly stored. Researchers at the museum examined and dissected it, filling out their reports and findings. At some point later they completely lost the body, so unfortunately, we are not able to learn any more about this enigma.
It was determined that the mummy had been a woman, nearly six foot tall. The woman had been wrapped in two deer skins that were decorated with leaf and vine patterns. The body was in nearly perfect condition even though researchers didn't see it until over 60 years after its discovery. The mummy had red hair in an unusual hair style. The hair was cut to about an eighth of an inch long, except on the back of the head, near the neck, where the hair was about two inches long.
Judging upon what was known by the artifacts found in the crypt, the woman is assumed to have been someone of importance. The miners also found a large sheet that was described as being either knitted or woven. The fact that this was the only mummy of this type ever to be found in America also hints at her importance.
The most astounding fact about the Fawn Hoof Mummy was that it had been prepared and embalmed in much the same way as used by the Egyptians. The hands, ears, fingers and much of the rest of the body was dried, but had been preserved very well.
So how, or why, did the Smithsonian Institution lose this precious find? Could it be that new information provided the mummy challenged their ideas about our pre-history and any interactions the ancient Egyptians may have had with the Americas?
Written by David Slone and Copyright © 2008 all rights reserved. No part of this story may be used without permission.
History of the American Antiquarian Society, Clifford K. Shipton
Prehistoric Mummies from the Mammoth Cave Area, edited by Angelo I. George