A factual sentence about mummies conveys more than one meaning

In Harper’s December 2022 Findings:

Violent deaths were more common than previously thought among South American mummies.

This is a well-written sentence. Harper’s specializes in immaculately factual prose. But when I first read it, my instant reaction was to recall Brendon Fraser fighting creatures whose linens wrappers were trailing on the ground.

I mean, am I right? (No, I haven’t yet seen Fraser’s transformative Oscar-winning performance.) This sentence could be interpreted that South American mummies were violent among themselves. The mummies were killing each other off?

Next, I thought, How did They (who “They” are was not identified) figure this out? Did a CSI team unwrap the mummies (they must have) and match wounds to weapons and then the weapons to other mummies? Did DNA come into it?

Doubt it. So I’m playing around with how this sentence could have been written to immediately inform me of its precise meaning.

How about…?

South American mummies previously thought they died of natural causes. Further research suggests to them they died more violently. Of course this has been a shock to the mummies. Their spokesperson hasn’t yet publicly reacted.

Maybe. Or…

South American mummies were violently dispensed with before they became mummies.

Well, perhaps accurate, but lacking an iota of je ne sais quoi.

In South America, many many years ago, people killed each other, leaving alive only a few experts in mummifying the bodies.

Nah. Not in evidence. Whatever that means in this context. If such a thing as “context” applies here.

Among South American mummies, signs of violent deaths were more common than otherwise…

“Otherwise” what? Who were They re-evaluating those mummy deaths? When had the mummies first been inspected and what caused the mummy investigators to return to the corpi and find signs of murder? A tip?

Signs of murder among ancient South Americans — I’m assuming they were ancient given the mummification, unless I really don’t know anything about death rituals in South America at any period in history…which I don’t — couldn’t have been so subtle they were not observed during the first run at ’em. Small caliber bullet holes would seem out of the question, as well as poisoned hat pins. Or quinoa.

Those who believed that most South American mummies died peacefully were wrong.

Getting there, but still…

Although South American mummies previously thought they had died natural deaths, it seems they were wrong. Who’s going to tell them, now that Brendon Fraser has moved on to serious roles?

Oh, hell. One more try:

Children, did you know that zillions of years ago, South Americans mummified their dead? No, I can’t specify what “zillions of years” means; basically, I’ve had no training in teaching kids anything about South America or mummification or the prevalence of violence in ancient South America — and don’t ask me what “ancient” means because I don’t know that either…

This entry was posted in Culture, The Facts of Life and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.