Living with the world’s oldest mummies | BBC News

By Jane Chambers
Arica, Chile

In a town in northern Chile it is not unusual for residents to stumble across ancient mummies.

“It may seem strange for some people to live on top of a graveyard, but we’re used to it,” says Ana María Nieto, who lives in the Chilean port city of Arica.

Arica, on the border with Peru, is built on the sandy dunes of the Atacama desert, the driest desert in the world.

But long before the coastal town was founded in the 16th Century, this area was home to the Chinchorro people.

Their culture hit the news in July when the United Nations’ cultural organisation, Unesco, added hundreds of mummies preserved by them to its World Heritage List.

The Chinchorro mummies were first documented in 1917 by German Archaeologist Max Uhle, who had found some of the preserved bodies on a beach. But it took decades of research to determine their age.

Radiocarbon dating eventually showed that the mummies were more than 7,000 years old – more than two millennia older than the more widely known Egyptian mummies.

  • Pre-ceramic culture that lasted from 7,000 to 1,500 BC
  • Sedentary fishers and hunter-gatherers
  • Lived in what is now northernmost Chile and southern Peru
  • Mummified their dead in a sophisticated and evocative manner
  • Mummification is believed to have started as a way to keep the memories of the dead alive


Continue reading: Living with the world’s oldest mummies

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