Unexplained Phenomenon: Humans Bodies Are Not Decomposing Properly in a Colombian Town, Cause Remains Unknown

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In a small Colombian town high in the Andes, Clovisnerys Bejarano kneels before the glass case containing the remarkably preserved body of her mother, who died 30 years ago but appears to be merely asleep.

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Saturnina Torres de Bejarano is dressed in the same floral dress and green cardigan she was buried in, still holding a fake red carnation in her surprisingly intact hands.

“Her face is still her little brown face, round, with her braids and her hair,” Bejarano, 63, told AFP at the museum in San Bernardo where her mother and 13 other mummified bodies are displayed, each one astonishingly well-preserved.

“If God wanted to preserve her, it must be for a reason,” Bejarano said of the town, located about 62 miles south of Bogota.

Torres was buried in a vault at the San Bernardo cemetery in 1993 and was exhumed in 2001, which is common practice to make room for new burials. What surprised her family was how well-preserved she was, still with hair, nails, and much of her tissue intact.

This discovery wasn’t unique; mummified bodies have been found in the cemetery since the first case in 1963. “When all this started, people were somewhat skeptical, thinking these were isolated cases,” said museum guide Rocio Vergara. “But it became more frequent to find bodies in this condition,” she added.

Over the decades, experts have tried to explain the spontaneous mummification occurring in San Bernardo, a phenomenon also observed in other countries, but without any definitive conclusions.

Some believe the mummification is tied to the healthy lifestyle and diet of the residents, mostly farmers, while others think it’s due to the town’s placement on a steep mountainside, allowing for constant winds and unique conditions. Anthropologist Daniela Betancourt from the National University of Colombia suggests that the vaults, akin to an oven, could create a dehydrating effect.

“God wanted us to have her,” Bejarano said, describing the family’s decision to allow her mother’s body to remain on display rather than cremated. “Seeing her like this, why would we want her cremated?” She often brings Torres’s great-grandchildren to visit her tomb, maintaining a connection to their unique family history.

Despite multiple theories, the cause of the phenomenon remains a mystery. “There has been a lack of studies to determine exactly what is causing these mummifications,” said Betancourt.

But for Bejarano, the reason for her mother’s preservation is clear: a sign from God. And as she visits her mother in the museum, she carries that belief with her.

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