What is it like to live with the world's oldest mummies

Jane Chambers,

Erica, Chile,


, Photo caption

The Chanchuro people embalmed their children as well as their adults. The mummy is of a six- to seven-year-old boy and is more than 4,100 years old, according to Radiocarbon Dating

Oldest mummies in the world
Oldest mummies in the world

Oldest mummies in the world,

"Some people may find it strange to live on top of a cemetery, but we are used to it," says Anna Maria Neto.

She is a resident of the Chilean coastal city of Erica.

Located on the Peruvian border, the city is located on the sand dunes of the world's driest desert, the Itacama.

Even before the coastal city was established in the early 16th century, the area was home to the Chinchoro people.

When the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) added hundreds of embalmed bodies to the World Heritage List in July this year, the culture of the people came to the fore.

Oldest Egyptian mummies
Oldest Egyptian mummies

Oldest Egyptian mummies

Chinchoro mummies were first documented in 1917 by the German archaeologist Max Ohl. They found some of their safe bodies on a beach. But it took decades to determine the age of these mummies.

Radiocarbon dating initially revealed that these mummies are more than 7,000 years old, 2,000 years older than the famous Egyptian mummies.

What do we know about Chanchuro culture?


This culture dates back to 7,000 BC to 1500 BC, when pottery was not introduced.

These people caught fish on the shore, hunted or gathered food

Living in what is now northern Chile or southern Peru

The bodies were embalmed in an elegant and pleasing manner

It is believed that the tradition of embalming began to commemorate the past

Chinchoro mummies
Chinchoro mummies

Thus the Chanchuro mummies are the earliest evidence of embalmed human corpses.

Anthropologist Bernardo Ariza, who is familiar with the Chanchuro culture, says that these people deliberately embalmed the dead, that is, they worked on the corpses themselves instead of waiting for them to dry and be buried in the desert. ۔

However, naturally embalmed bodies have also been found in some places in the area.

Aria says that for this purpose, small incisions were made in the body, the internal organs were pulled out and the skin was taken off, after which the inner part of the body began to dry out.

The Chanchuro people would then fill the body with natural fibers and stems to keep it straight, then sew the skin back using bamboo stitches.

They would also stick thick black hair on Mimi's head, and apply mud to her face, leaving room for her eyes and mouth.

A mummy of a small child kept in a local museum

Mummies' faces were covered with mud

Mummies had thick black hair on their heads

Eventually the body would be blackened or reddened by the natural colors derived from the minerals.

After the discovery of hundreds of mummies in the last century in Erica and many other places, the locals have learned to live with these mummies and in many places on top of them.

Many generations of living people have experienced the discovery of human remains during the construction of a building or the smell of a dog, but for a long time they did not know how important they were.

According to archaeologist Jenna Campos Fuentes, "Sometimes people tell us how their children used to play football with skulls and take off the mummies' clothes, but now they know that if anything like that, they have to give it up." And we have to tell. '

Locals Anna Maria Neto and Paula Pementel are happy that UNESCO has recognized the importance of the Chanchuro culture.

Paula Pementel (right) and Anna Maria Neto

These women lead neighboring organizations near the two excavation sites and are working with teams of scientists from the local university Trapachia to further highlight the importance of the Chanchuro culture and ensure the maintenance of these sites. Can be made.

A museum is now being planned in the area where rows of sturdy glass will be placed on human remains and people will be able to see them from above.

In addition, local people will be trained as guides so that they can share their heritage with others.

A small number of the more than 300 chinchilla mummies are currently on display. Most of them are housed in the San Miguel de Azarpa Archaeological Museum.

Administered by Trapachia University, the museum is 30 minutes away from Erica and is home to an impressive exhibit on embalming.

There are also plans for a large museum with more mummies, but huge funds are needed to keep them safe.

Bernardo Ariza and Jenna Campos believe that many treasures are still waiting to be discovered in Erica and nearby mountains, but resources are needed to find them.

Mayor Gerardo Espindola Rohas hopes the inclusion of these mummies on the World Heritage List will boost tourism and raise more funds.

Mayor Gerardo Espindola Rohas hopes the World Heritage Site will benefit the local population.

But they realize that any development must be done properly, work with local people and protect the sites.

"Rome is built on top of monuments, on the contrary, the people of Erica are living on human remains and we need to save the mummies," he says.

He says there are urban planning rules and archaeologists are on site at every construction site so that the precious remains are not harmed.

Mayor Espindola is determined that unlike other areas of Chile where multinational companies and tour operators have bought land from tourist destinations to make a profit, Erica's heritage will remain in the hands of the local people and benefit the local population. ۔

Anna Maria Preto, president of the local organization, hopes that the new reputation of the mummies will be better for everyone.

"It's a small town, but it's friendly. We want scientists and tourists from all over the world to come here and learn about the amazing Chanchuro culture we have been living with all our lives. 

Ariza says that the Chanchuro methods of embalming are very different from the Egyptian methods.

Not only did the Egyptians use bandages and oil for embalming, but only the corpses of the elite were embalmed. The Chanchuro, on the other hand, embodied men, women, infants, infants, and even pregnancy regardless of their status.