Chinchorro Mummies

The Chinchorro mummies were believed to be the first form of mummification to be found. They were found near the border of present day Peru and Chile. They participated in the practice of mummification around 5000 BC, the same time Egyptians began experimenting with their form of mummification.

Chinchorro Photos

They were fishing people. They were called Chinchorro because their remains were found on Chinchorro Beach. The word Chinchorro means 'fishing nets'. They lived in prehistoric times. Food, shelter and water were constantly available and there were few threatening predators which enabled them to establish a cult of the dead. They were not buried immediately after preparation. This suggests that the mummies were set up in their households or paraded at feasts and festivals. When finally buried, a few possessions were buried with them such as fishing lines or a carved figure which suggests they had a belief of life after death.
Due to the discovery of auditory exostosis (small bumbs in ear canal) on many of the males' skull, it is believed that they were divers and dived for their fish.

An archaeologist, Karen Wise discovered that the Chinchorro people ate a diet of ocean fish, marine birds, sea mammals, shell fish and a few wild animals supplemented by wild plants.

The tools they used were made of chipped stone which was made using raw materials from nearby regions. Fish hooks were made out of bone, cactus spine and muscle shell.

Clothes were made out of pelts of birds and mammals and also out of wild reeds that they chewed to soften them which was then put together by twining.

There is no form of facial reconstruction done on the Chinchorro mummies to this date so we can't make an assumption on their appearance.

They were found in 1983 by workmen who were installing pipes along the northern coast of Chile, who had accidently come across their cemetry where 96 bodies had been buried. They were found 40 inches below the surface in a communial grave.

The average lifespan was 25. 1/4 of the 96 mummies found were children that died before the age of 1. 1/5 of the adults had tapeworm which was the result of eating raw fish and nearly 1/2 of the mummies had infections so severe that their bones were badly damaged. These mummifications may have been the result from the process of mummifying their dead because of the decomposing flesh.


Black Mummies: 5000 BC to 3000 BC

The Chinchorros took the deceased body apart, treated it and then put it back together again. The head, limbs and skin are removed, then the body is heat dried and skin is completely stripped down to the bone. They take special care of the skull where they remove the brain by cutting the skull in half. It is then packed with material then put back together. The organs were taken out and replaced with straw, and the brain was replaced with plant fibres.

When they put the body back together, they used sean lion skin to fill any gaps, and put the limbs and spinal column back together by inserting sticks under the skin. They then filled the body back up with clay and feathers to make them look lifelike again. The skull was the last thing to be reattatched. Their genitals were molded out of clay.

The body was then covered in white ash paste like substance which was used to fill out the persons normal facial features. They were then painted with manganese which gave the Chinchorro mummies their distinctive black colour.

Red Mummies:

Around 2000BC, The Chinchorro people changed their mummification methods to red mummies which meant that instead of taking the body completely apart, they made insisions in the dead bodies, trunk and shoulders to remove the organs and dry it out. The head was still removed to take the brain out. It was them put back together and similar materials as the balck mummies were put into the body. The whole body besides the head was painted in a red ochre which gives it its name. The skin is not removed in this mummification process and the original practise of black clay face is still there. They also make wigs for their mummies by attatching 60cm of hair to their head, which is kept in place by a "hat" of black clay.

Sometime before 1000 BC, they banned the process of mummification because new mortuary customs replaced the old techniques.

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