As far as archaeological discoveries go, finding a mummified hand of a tiny baby clutching at a late medieval coin is already Indiana Jones territory. But in 2005, a team opened up a pot at an abandoned cemetery in Nyarlorinc, Hungary, and found just that. Also, the hand was green, pushing the whole find well onto Indiana Jones 4 turf.
"During data collection in a Late Medieval osteological series of Nyárlőrinc-Hangár út, we have come across very small, green colored remains of a perinate individual that seemed to be partially mummified," the team wrote of the find years later.
"Preservation of these minute remains was so good that we decided to invite a specialist of other scientific fields to conduct a series of multidisciplinary investigations on the bones in order to come to a common conclusion concerning these rare findings unparalleled in the bio-archeological record."
In other strange and unexplained details of the case, a coin found alongside the remains was in circulation between 1858 and 1862. Or in other words: "The pot burial took place at least 150 years after the cemetery has been abandoned."
The main mystery to be explored, however, was what had caused the preservation seen in the body, particularly of the soft tissue of the hand. Natural mummification is rare. Though it happens through a number of methods, it usually takes place in dryer and/or colder conditions than those found at the cemetery. Furthermore, other bodies placed nearby in the cemetery decayed as normal, despite being in the same basic conditions.
Using chemical analysis on the bodies, the team found the answer: the infant's body was crammed full of copper, especially, as you'd expect, in the hand clutching at the copper coin. In fact, the copper found in the body was 497 times higher than levels found in other mummies.
The antimicrobial properties of the copper coin kept the hand, and other parts of the body that the copper had contaminated, from being broken down by microbes. The team believes it is the first solely copper-driven mummification case ever reported. They add that with other burials taking place with copper placed near bodies, "hopefully, more cases are to appear in the future".