Scientists believe that the Fire Mummies were created by the Ibaloi between 1200 and 1500 AD in five towns in Benguet and buried in caves. Others believe that the process of mummification began at 2000 BC. What makes the Fire Mummies unique is their process of mummification. That mummification began shortly after a person died, where he would digest a very salty drink. After his death, his corpse was washed and set over a fire in seated a position, thus drying the fluids. Smoke from tobacco was blown into the mouth to dry the body's inside and internal organs. Eventually, herbs were rubbed into the body. Mummified bodies are then placed in a coffin made of pinewood and laid to rest in rock shelters, natural caves or man made burial niches. The practice of that mummification ended, since Spaniardscolonized the Philippines in the 1500s.
When the Fire Mummies were discovered in the early 20th century, many of them were thieved, because the caves were mostly unprotected. Because of this, Monument Watch, a nonprofit organization, declared the site as one of the 100 most endangered sites in the world.
After logging operations intensified in the area, the location of many caves became known. Unfortunately this has led to looting, as unconscientious visitors have been eager to leave their mark, including graffiti, on the Kabayan mummies. The Kabayan Mummies were listed in the 1998 World Monuments Watch by the World Monuments Fund. Funding through American Express was used for emergency conservation and the creation of a comprehensive management plan. Additionally, local authorities from surrounding municipalities collaborated in cultural awareness campaign to introduce the Mummies to Filipinos. Tourist facilities were also constructed in order to control visitation and prevent harmful intrusions.
The Fire Mummies remain in natural caves with relatively small security and have been designated as one of the 100 world's most endangered heritage sites. Officials know 50-80 other mummies, but they will not give their locations because of their fear of vandalism. A small museum in Kabayan, Benguet also displays a few mummies.