It is part of a collection that has sparked a lively debate in Mexico about the commercial exploitation of human remains.

They were exhumed between 1870 and 2004 due to lack of space in the city's cemetery, and as their relatives could not be found, the municipal authorities described them as "cultural heritage". They are now a very profitable tourist attraction.

The approximately 600,000 annual visitors generate about two million dollars in annual revenue for the municipality.

Mummies on display at the Guanajuato Museum on June 6, 2023 in Mexico © Rodrigo Oropeza / AFP

"I don't know who decided to set up this scenography (of +the witch+) but the mummy has been exposed like this for many years," Jesus Borja, head of culture in Guanajuato, told AFP.


Most of Guanajuato's mummies are displayed standing in glass cages and the light installation accentuates the gloomy atmosphere of the place where a funeral melody is played on a loop.

The exhibition of these mummified bodies sparks a recurring debate between inhabitants proud of their cultural heritage and opponents denouncing a lack of ethics and respect for these dead.

Visitors gaze at mummies on display at the museum in Guanajuato, Mexico, June 6, 2023 © Rodrigo Oropeza / AFP

The controversy escalated after several mummies were moved to Mexico City in March to be displayed at a tourism fair, fueled by political differences between the left-wing national government and the conservative opposition that administers the state of Guanajuato and its regional capital.

Luis Garcia, a resident of Guanajuato, a city of 200,000 inhabitants known for its colorful picturesque streets and mining past, wonders about the "trade" of these remains. Exposing "a member of his family would be disrespectful and I would fight for him not to be exposed," the 50-year-old tour guide told AFP.

A mummy on display at the museum in Guanajuato, Mexico, on June 6, 2023 © Rodrigo Oropeza / AFP

"I don't think it's degrading ... Families have died out," said Josefina Lemus, a 69-year-old retired teacher who would have no objection to having her own mummified body exposed in this way.

A commission has been set up by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) to investigate the identity and state of conservation of the mummies.

Its objective is also to "restore dignity" to these human remains, according to Ilan Leboreiro, anthropologist at INAH who condemns the spectacular installation of "the misnamed +witch+".

Aerial view of the Santa Paula cemetery in Guanajuato, Mexico, June 6, 2023 © Rodrigo Oropeza / AFP

It is "regrettable that the intention of the Guanajuato authorities is to promote morbidity. It is unethical to treat the remains of a human being in this way," he said.

© 2023 AFP