• Antofagasta 1520, Arica, Chile
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    A museum in Chile is displaying what it claims are the oldest mummies in the world.

    The Chinchorro mummies were discovered in the Andean region of Arica in 1993 by workers from the local water company.

    The unique technique of body preservation of the Chilean corpses dates back to two- thousand years before mummification first started in ancient Egypt.

    These are the oldest mummies in the world.

    They are the mummified bodies of newborn children from the Chinchorro culture in Chile.

    The Chinchorro lived in the Andean region of Arica for more than four-thousand years.

    To them, preservation of their dead was a deeply religious act dating back to two- thousand years before mummification emerged in Egypt.

    Archaeologists believe Chinchorro mummies are one of the wonders of Andean archaeology.

    It’s interesting and important because this technique appeared around 5000 B.C. and disappeared circa 2000 B.C. and it doesn’t repeat itself. It’s a unique phenomenon that occurred only in this region of the Andes and that makes it extremely intriguing and interesting.

    The mummies were discovered in October 1993 here in Chinchorro beach, when the Arica water company was digging trenches for new pipes.

    Three feet below the surface they came across a cemetery filled with mummies.

    Arica’s dry weather contributed to the outstanding preservation of the mummies.

    Precisely the weather plays an important role in preservation in general. Without the dry weather we have all these human manifestations, the materialisation of the grief, the love for their dead by these ancient peoples will disappear. Dry weather, salt, the soil’s salinity all this helps in the preservation not only of the mummies but also of the cultural artifacts, the artifacts they had.

    What makes these people remarkable is the elaborate way in which they prepared their loved ones for life after death.

    Internal organs were removed, and the bodies were stuffed, reconstructed and coated with red mud or a dark gray paste depending on the period in which they died.

    The Chinchorro practised an egalitarian system of mummification.

    People from all social classes received the same burial privileges.

    96 bodies of adult and child red and black mummies have been discovered so far.

    Artifacts buried with the mummies were also recovered from Chinchorro beach.

    But there’s a threat to future discoveries : Archaeologists at the San Miguel Museum in Arica say they lack the necessary funds to continue their excavations.

    Nevertheless they hope to hold the third World Congress of Mummies in Arica in 1998.