Science Articles

4 ‘Immortals’ that Died

Fri, 17th Apr 2015

Death is a terrifying thought to many people: Is the best solution just to become immortal?

Graihagh Jackson

gold circles 2Dying is the one thing that's certain in life, but these days society is looking for ways to extend life, and not just with anti-aging creams and botox but with liquid nitrogen, robots and brain mapping. Besides, a jellyfish can do it, so why can’t we? People have been trying to become immortal for thousands of years with various schemes, but these don't always go to plan...

4. Qin Shi Huang

You may not have heard of Qin Shi Huang but he was one of most significant Chinese emperors of all time; founding a dynasty that lasted nearly 400 years. Everyone has heard of his achievements though: the Great Wall of China and the terracotta army for starters.

Qin Shi Huang built his terracotta army to protect himself in the afterlife – thousands and thousands of terracotta statues (all with different uniforms, facial expressions and features) have been excavated near Xi-an. Before his death, he sent his servant Xu Fudong out into the world to discover the fabled elixir of life. Xu Fondong never returned from his voyage, probably because he would have been executed without the Philosopher’s Stone. The thousands of youths he took with him on the quest went and populated a nearby island we now know as Japan, or so the legend goes.

So desperate to escape death, Qin Shi Huang ingested a load of mercury. Ironically, these pills were meant to make him immortal. Alas, they were actually lethal and caused his painful demise.

3. Leonard Jones

Leonard ‘Live-Forever’ Jones was a rather unsuccessful politician but he appeared to have a skill that all politicians share: the fantastic power to persuade others of ridiculous things and in Jones’ case, he convinced people that he was immortal. In fact, his immortality was his main political argument! What’s odder is some people were addled enough to actually vote for him as the Governor of Kentucky, and later for President of the United States. Although he never sat in Washington, he did win a small fraction of the vote.

Jones argued that prayer and fasting were the key to living forever, but he clearly didn’t do enough of either, because in 1868 he died from pneumonia at the young age (for an immortal) of 71.

2. Count St Germain

The well-respected and renowned philosopher Voltaire described the Count as "a man who never dies, and who knows everything." Records say St Germain was born in the 1690s, but some of his contemporaries believed he lived through Christ’s crucifixion. The key to his supposed immortality? Projection powder. What was in this mystical substance is unclear but not only did it make you immortal, it was also an alchemist’s dream and turned base metals, like copper or lead, into pure gold or silver.

According to official records, the Count died in 1784. However, recorded sightings of Count St Germain have popped up since then, with him consistently looking like a spring chicken in his mid-forties. His most recent “appearance" was in 1972 in Paris. A man named Richard Chanfray claimed to be the legend and even appeared to convert lead into gold on TV, before committing suicide in 1983.

Who was Count St Germain? Is Dr Who a modern incarnation of this time travelling genius? Or is he really immortal? Nobody knows...

1. Self Mummifying Monks

Mummifying yourself is somewhat macabre by today’s standards, but these priests saw this as a form of enlightenment. In 794 AD, Buddhists from the esoteric school of Shingon began the three part process of mummification, which took around ten years. The first step was to live entirely on nuts and grains to rid the body completely of fat: the lack of fat means decomposition is greatly reduced. During this time, monks would endure extreme hardships, like meditating in icy mountain streams for hours on end.

By the time step two is reached, the monk is a walking skeleton, but nevertheless their diet is restricted even further to bark and roots from pine trees. At this stage monks also begin to drink tea made from the sap of the urushi tree; an extremely toxic substance normally used to varnish furniture. It causes vomiting and dehydration, but more importantly, it ‘lacquers’ the innards, preventing insects from ingesting the monk after his death.

In the final stage, the monk enters a coffin. There is a small hole to enable breathing and the monk rings a small bell every day to alert fellow monks he is still, somehow alive. Once the bell ceases to ring, the coffin is sealed.

After 1,000 days, the coffin is re-opened to see how effective the mummification process was. Of the thousands of monks underwent this excruciating process, only 24 monks were successful, the most recent of which was discovered in January 2015. The 200-year-old mummified body was found in the lotus position in Mongolia. The select few that triumphed are said to be living forever with Buddha; those that failed are praised but are thought to have returned to the wheel of reincarnation.

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Hello everyone this is my first post here. 

Living forever has its appeal, I can't deny I have never wished for it, but what would be the cost to our planet? 

I am sure that any such gift would be expensive, it would be something that only the rich could afford and the inequality would be staggering. We already measure inequality, deprivation and life expectancy and the ability to live forever would skew the results beyond all recognition. 

Supposing ithe gift eventually becomes affordable to more people, the population in the west increases, the inequality continues in the poorest most deprived areas of the world, but overall our global population increases, as well as the demand on natural resources, leading to food scarcity,  increased anthropogenic carbon, climate change and more natural disasters. 

I am assuming whether or not you have the gift it will only allow you to live forever barring accidents to quote Patrick Troughton, and we will still need to be able to eat, and avoid being caught in a natural catastrophe.  So in short the ability to live forever might be the thing that actually kills us all.  Paul Oatt, Tue, 16th Jun 2015

I'd never want to live forever. Life would just get so incredibly boring after a while that it wouldn't be worth living for. Think about it. After so long you've done everything. At least all the things that you'd want to do. PmbPhy, Sun, 21st Jun 2015

You would just have to hope that there were lots of exciting new discoveries in science, .......or lots more pseudo scientists to do battle with.
Question is, which will grow faster?
Colin2B, Fri, 26th Jun 2015

The number of scientific discoveries that can occur is finite and it will take a finite amount of time to discover/invent them all. However the number of pseudo scientists is as infinite as the universe will be old. But we really can't live forever because the universe will eventually reach a heat death. PmbPhy, Sun, 28th Jun 2015

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