A mummy is a body, human or animal, whose skin and organs have been preserved by either intentional or incidental exposure to chemicals, extreme cold (ice mummies), very low humidity, or lack of air when bodies are submerged in bogs, so that the recovered body will not decay further if kept in cool and dry conditions. Some authorities restrict the use of the term to bodies deliberately embalmed with chemicals, but the use of the word to cover accidentally desiccated bodies goes back at least to the 1730s.
Mummies of humans and other animals have been found all around the world, both as a result of natural preservation through unusual conditions, and as cultural artifacts. Over one million animal mummies have been found in Egypt, many of which are cats. The oldest known naturally mummified human corpse is a severed head dated as 6,000 years old, found in 1936 at the site named Inca Cueva No. 4 in South America.
In addition to the well-known mummies of Ancient Egypt, deliberate mummification was a feature of several ancient cultures in areas of South America and Asia which have very dry climates. There are more than 1000 mummies in Xinjiang, China. The oldest-known deliberate mummy is a child, one of the Chinchorro mummies found in the Camarones Valley, Chile, and dates from around 5050 BC.
Mummies are commonly featured in horror genres as undead creatures. One of the earliest examples of this is The Mummy!: Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century, an 1827 novel written by Jane C. Loudon. This early, science-fiction work concerns an Egyptian mummy named Cheops, who is brought back in to life in the 22nd century.
During the 20th century, horror films and other mass media popularized the notion of a curse associated with mummies (see Curse of the pharaohs). One of the earliest appearances was The Jewel of Seven Stars, a horror novel by Bram Stoker first published in 1903 that concerned an archaeologist's plot to revive an ancient Egyptian mummy. This book later served as the basis for the 1971 film Blood from the Mummy's Tomb.
Films representing such a belief include the 1932 movie The Mummy starring Boris Karloff as Imhotep; four subsequent 1940s' Universal Studios mummy films which featured a mummy named Kharis, who also was the title mummy in The Mummy, a 1959 Hammer remake of The Mummy's Hand and The Mummy's Tomb; and a remake of the original film that was released in 1999 (and later spawned two direct sequels and prequels and a spinoff movie). The belief in cursed mummies probably stems in part from the supposed curse on the tomb of Tutankhamun. In 1979, the American Broadcasting Company aired a TV holiday show, The Halloween That Almost Wasn't, in which a mummy from Egypt (Robert Fitch) arrived at Count Dracula's castle without speaking.
The 1922 discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb by archaeologist Howard Carter brought mummies into the mainstream. Slapstick comedy trio the Three Stooges humorously exploited the discovery in the short film We Want Our Mummy, in which they explored the tomb of the midget King Rutentuten (and his Queen, Hotsy Totsy). A decade later, they played crooked used chariot salesmen in Mummy's Dummies, in which they ultimately assisted a different King Rootentootin (Vernon Dent) with a toothache.
Robot mummies featured in a Doctor Who story, Pyramids of Mars, in the 1970s, while the Hammer Horror film series had also included what had become a stock genre character. A new Hollywood series of films featuring an immortal undead High Priest began with The Mummy in 1999. Even after that the world saw two more Mummy movies- The Mummy Returns 2001 and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008).