Chinchorro mummies are the world's oldest known mummies, they range from 4,000 to 7,000 years old. Chinchorro refers to the people who inhabited on the coast of Northern Chile and Southern Peru. Chinchorro's relied on fishing, hunter and gathering for food and shelter. The first Chinchorro mummy was identified in 1917 by Max Uhle, a German archaeologist.
The mummies were very well preserved - the hair, body, clothes, and bones of the burials found upon these shores. Included in the finds was an infant, who was only a few months old. This infant mummy had a black funerary mask covering its face where it laid in the ground for over 5,000 years.
The mummies were originally found by the Aricia Water Company digging in this area for a new pipeline and within three feet from the surface, they found the mummies. The area in which they were found is about 75 square feet, holding 96 bodies. The bodies were all lying on their backs which could indicate a tradition or belief about the Incan society. In the Chinchorro culture, all deceased individuals were mummified, regardless of their social class, including children, miscarried fetuses, infants and the elderly.
The mummification of the mummies was for religious purposes. The culture being studied possibly believed that mummies acted as a bridge between the world of the living and the world of the dead. The most important aspect of the mummies is how they were cared for.
Max Uhle, who discovered Chinchorro mummies, found that there were two very common methods of Chinchorro mummification - Black and Red Mummy.
The Back Mummy technique was used from 5000 B.C. to 3000 B.C. This involved dismembering the body's limbs. The body's arms, legs, and arms were dismembered. Then, the body was heated, dried and the flesh was stripped off of the bones. The skull was then cut into two, material was stuffed into the skull and then sewn back together. They entire body was packed with materials (ie. clay, feathers, etc.) and then reassembled.
The Red Mummy technique was used from about 2500 B.C. to 2000 B.C. This involved incisions into the body, removal of internal organs and drying out the body cavity. Just like the Black Mummy technique, the body was packed with material, to make the body more human - like. A wig made out of human hair was placed on the head, and a hat made out of black clay was placed on the mummy. The entire body, excluding the wig and face, was painted with red ochre.
The mummies have been studied by National Geographic Team and by the Archaeological Museum of San Miguel de Azapa and by other University teams around the world. The Archaeological Museum discovered that the mummies have dried out naturally in the Atacama Desert.
The grave goods found with the mummies are what have interested archaeologists the most thus being why these mummies are so obscure.
In 1983 when the mummies were studied very closely, the scholars discovered one of the oldest mummification rituals in history. The mummies also have been studied for knowledge on their diet. It has been gathered that this Incan culture live primarily off of land animals, plants, sea lion meat, fish, shellfish and seaweed. This has been the basis of their diet for five millenniums.
Arriaza, B. (1995). Chile’s Chinchorro Mummies. Retrieved January 30, 2017, from http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/1995/03/chinchorro-mummies/arriaza-text