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Oldest Mummies in the World Are Turning into Black Slime

Oldest Mummies in the World Are Turning into Black Slime

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The Chinchorro mummies of Chile, which have been preserved for at least 7,000 years, are turning into black slime due to rising humidity levels causing bacterial growth on the skin. More than one hundred mummies – the oldest in the entire world – are turning gelatinous as a result of the rapidly spreading bacteria. Chilean researchers are now seeking funds to preserve the deteriorating mummies before they are lost for good.

The Chinchorros were a people who inhabited the coast of the Atacama Desert in northern Chile and southern Peru between 7000 and 1500 B.C. The people of this culture relied on fishing, hunting and gathering for subsistence. Whilst the earliest known Chinchorro sites date to 7000 B.C., mummification, based on current evidence, dates to 5000 B.C. The Chinchorro mummies were first identified in 1917 by the German archaeologist, Max Uhle. Further excavations showed that such mummies were spread along the coast and concentrated between Arica and Camerones. It was in 1983, however, that the largest and best-preserved find of Chinchorro mummies was discovered. This discovery was made not by archaeologists, but by the Arica water company whilst laying a new pipeline near the foot of El Morro.

Valley of the Moon in the Atacama Desert

Valley of the Moon in the Atacama Desert (Reinhard Jahn Mannheim/Wikimedia Commons)

Chinchorro mummies are one of the wonders of Andean archaeology and appear to reflect the spiritual beliefs of the ancient Chinchorro people, although the exact reason why they mummified their dead is unknown. Some scholars maintain that it was to preserve the remains of their loved ones for the afterlife, while another commonly accepted theory is that there was an ancestor cult of sorts, since there is evidence of both the bodies traveling with the groups and of being placed in positions of honour during major rituals, as well as a delay in the final burial itself.

Unlike the ancient Egyptians, who reserved mummification for royalty and the elite, the Chinchorro community accorded everyone, regardless of age or status, this sacred rite. The decision of egalitarian preservation is proven in the mummification of all members of society and included men, women, the elderly, children, infants, and miscarried foetuses. In fact, it is often the case that children and babies received the most elaborate mummification treatments.

Often Chinchorro mummies were elaborately prepared by removing the internal organs and replacing them with vegetable fibres or animal hair. In some cases, an embalmer would remove the skin and flesh from the dead body and replace them with clay.

Radiocarbon dating reveals that the oldest discovered Chinchorro mummy was that of a child from a site in the Camarones Valley, about 60 miles south of Arica in Chile, and dates from around 5050 BC.

The head of an ancient Chinchorro mummy from northern Peru

The head of an ancient Chinchorro mummy from northern Peru (Photo by Pablo Trincado/Wikimedia Commons)

Despite surviving for at least seven millennia, they began deteriorating about 10 years ago, when moisture began to allow bacteria to grow, said Ralph Mitchell, a Harvard University professor emeritus of applied biology. About 120 mummies, which radiocarbon dating date from 5050 BC and before, are rapidly deteriorating in the archaeological museum of the University of Tarapacá in Arica, Chile.

Reuters reports that Sergio Medina Parra, anthropologist and department head at University of Tarapaca in the northern city of Arica. is leading an attempt to get the Chinchorro mummies recognized by UN heritage body UNESCO as a world heritage site.

"The application is not a goal in itself, but the start of a process, of improved conservation tools, with the Chilean state and the international community," he said [via Reuters].

Only around 300 Chinchorro mummies have been discovered over the years. It is essential they are protected in order to preserve the last traces of this fascinating ancient culture.

Chinchorro mummy, south coast of Peru or north coast of Chile, 5000-2000 BC - San Diego Museum

Chinchorro mummy, south coast of Peru or north coast of Chile, 5000-2000 BC - San Diego Museum (public domain)

Top image: A Chinchorro mummy showing signs of deterioration on the chest with the skin turning into black slime. Credit: Vivien Standen.

By April Holloway



White people never do anything wrong. There aren't any white looters because when they do the looting, it isn't called looting, it's called preservation. Of course, the things they preserve end up being transformed and taken away from the people. But we should be ok with that, right? GTFOH trying to take and give credit to monsters that are only capable of destruction is insanity. Your research is faulty, your logic is absent. But at least you're trying, good for you 'Genetiker.'

I hate to break it to you, but White scientists aren't the ones who are doing irreparable damage to Peruvian and Chilean archeological sites. It's the native Peruvians and Chileans themselves, who loot all of the valuable artifacts from every site they can find, leaving the desecrated remains of the brown, chestnut, red, and blond-haired people of the ancient Peruvian and Chilean cultures, which they regard as worthless, strewn all over the desert sands and mountain highlands:

Looters strip Latin America of archaeological heritage

Poor Peru Stands By as Its Rich Past Is Plundered

In Peru, Grave Robbers Vie With Archeologists For Ancient Treasure


Good - you made your point about how smart you scientists are and how white people belong...everywhere.

But, what do your links and your intellect expunged have to do with how the grave robbing white coats have destroyed yet more corpses, of the indigenous ancestors of my peoples?

the arrogance of the comment and the article itself is freaking disgusting; in its lack of empathy and overt display of lack of responsible conduct for the dead.

Put them back where you found them and GET OUT!

Last year I performed a series of analyses of ancient American genomes, and they showed that a Chinchorro DNA sample dated to around 4000 BC was approximately 30% European and 70% Amerindian:

July 23, 2015: Analyses of ancient American genomes

July 24, 2015: K = 4 admixture analysis of ancient American genomes

August 3, 2015: K = 16 admixture analysis of ancient American genomes

October 6, 2015: Gravettian admixture in the Chinchorro people

This was the first-ever conclusive DNA evidence that Europeans were in the Americas thousands of years ago. It was clear much earlier, however, that the Chinchorro people were at least partially European. In the following post from over three yeas ago I included numerous photographs of Chinchorro mummies showing that they have brown and chestnut European hair, and not black Amerindian hair:

March 26, 2013: The White Gods

There is a mountain of other historical, archeological, anthropological, and genetic evidence proving the presence of Europeans in ancient America and Polynesia, and it's all documented in the featured posts listed at the top right of my blog:

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April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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