October 30, 2017 #ChileDiverse #ChileGlobal #Tourism & Sports

Chinchorro mummies, their history and preservation

Named after the millenary culture of which they were a part, the Chinchorro mummies are known to be archaeologically considered the oldest finding in the world related to this form of mortuary preservation, even with about 2 millennia of existence prior to their Egyptian counterparts.

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The Chinchorro culture culture existed millennia ago, approximately between 7020 and 1500 B.C., before any present-day city or other civilization, and spread from the southern coast of Peru in the north, to approximately what is now the region of Antofagasta Region to the south. This culture was mainly fishermen and gatherers, so in addition to being able to adapt to the desert conditions of what is now the Atacama Desert, they also managed to conquer the coasts of the Pacific Ocean. Pacific Ocean to supply themselves with food and survive.

The first mummies were found at Chinchorro beach in the Region of Arica and Parinacotafrom which the name of the original culture also comes from, in 1917 as a result of an excavation and study carried out by the German archaeologist Max Uhle. Although no remains of pottery or metallurgy have ever been found, which leads to the conclusion that they did not develop any of these practices, the Chinchorro did have specific cults related to death or its concept. Their mummifications are not only the oldest recorded, but also have a level of complexity typical of more technological and advanced cultures.

The reasons why the culture decided to start using this practice of preserving bodies are not clear, but it has been discovered that the high natural levels of arsenic in the place induced the death of many children and fetuses. It is believed, therefore, that mummification corresponded to an empathic practice that sought relief for the relatives of the deceased infants. On the other hand, there is also the possibility that the same minerals present in the area provoked a kind of natural mummification that they later perfected.

Experts divide the mummies found in 4 groups mainly; the black mummies (5000 -2800 B.C), red mummies (2500 -1500 B.C), mummies with bandages (2620 B.C) and the mummies with mud cloak (2500 - 1700 B.C). Due to the fact that in almost most cases no material elements were found accompanying the bodies, it can be deduced that the Chinchorro did not have a strong belief in an afterlife or that they did not give a major importance to materiality, but mainly to ritual for human and community reasons.

Today there are approximately 180 mummies that are protected, preserved and studied by the University of Tarapacáin the San Miguel de Azapa Archaeological Museum and at the Colón Site 10. There are also a smaller number in the Natural History Museum of Santiago y Valparaiso.

Since 1998, the mummies have been on Chile's tentative list, which is mainly the preliminary step to be considered a World Heritage by Unesco. In the meantime, many books, archaeological researches and documentaries support the patrimonial and historical importance of these mummies and their study.

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