The world’s oldest mummies are not in Egypt. The first humans mummified their dead in one of the driest places on Earth.
In around 5,000 BC, the Chinchorro people that settled in the coastal bays of the Atacama Desert used to use a technique for mummification. Today that place is known as Chile.
Chinchorro people developed mummification technique 2000 years before the ancient Egyptians. Chinchorro were pre-ceramic hunter-gatherers while the Egyptians were a complex civilization that mummified the elite pharaohs.
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The San Miguel de Azapa Archaeological Museum holds the mummified remains of some 300 Chinchorro people.
The curator and conservationist Mariela Santos said, “It’s a very sacred collection because the majority of the items are related to the ceremony of death.”
It has been proposed by Chile for World Heritage Site status for the Chinchorro sites. It is expected to be in UNESCO’s hands by 2020.
It is expected that the archeological museum in San Miguel de Azapa can open a huge Chinchorro wing in 2020 that can hold 35% of the collection. It is hoped that once the Chileans will appreciate the global importance of their mummy-making culture, the rest of the world will do as well.
Bernardo Arriaza, a physical anthropologist said, “What we’re trying to show is that we not only have the oldest evidence of intentional mummification, but it was done by pre-ceramic hunter-gatherer people in a pristine environment that remains today.”
Adding, “These were the earliest settlers of the Atacama region, so I like to think of them as the pioneers of the desert. They may not have been technologically advanced, but all of their complexity went into the preparation of the dead.”