School children uncover 7,000-year-old mummy in Chile
A group of schoolchildren have discovered a 7,000-year-old mummy while on an archaeology field trip in northern Chile over the weekend, reported La Tercera. The mummy belongs to the Chinchorro culture, which existed along the coast of the Atacama Desert in what is now northern Chile and southern Peru. The Chinchorro mummies are the oldest examples of human-made mummies in the world, predating the ancient Egyptian mummies by up to 4,000 years.
The ground-breaking find was made by on Saturday during a visit to the Morro de Arica site on El Laucho beach in Arica, by a group of at-risk youths enrolled in a program designed to help them identify with their roots. The area had been hit by a massive 8.2 magnitude earthquake on 1 st April, and many archaeological artifacts have since been uncovered following a series of landslides triggered by the quake, including Inca silver, spearheads, pottery and clothing.
The discovery was made by accident, when one of the students noticed a strange shape in the ground, which turned out to be a mummy dating back to the ancient Chinchorro period (7020 BC to 1500 BC).
A group of students unearthed a 7,000-year-old mummy belonging to the Chinchorro culture. Photo credit: lainfo.es
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.
A Chinchorro mummy. Photo source.
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.
According to Hans Neira, the students’ school teacher, the Chilean National Heritage Office has now stepped in to complete the excavation and conduct a full investigation of the discovered remains.
Featured image: Chilean children at the excavation site. Photo: courtesy La Tercera.