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Ancient Chinchorro Mummies
Pacific Coast of Peru and Chile

The mummies of the Chinchorros have been found along the Pacific coast near the border of present-day Peru and Chile. The Chinchorros may have been the first people to practice mummification. They preserved their dead beginning about 5000 B.C. Around the time they reached their peak in 3000 B.C., the Egyptians began experimenting with mummification.

The methods used by the Chinchorros were quite different from those of the Egyptians. They made three types of mummies. The two most common methods were the black mummies and the red Mummies.

The black mummies were from about 5000 B.C. to 3000 B.C. the dead person's body was taken apart, treated, and reassembled. The head, arms, legs and skin were removed. The body was heat-dried, and the flesh and tissue were completely stripped from the bone. The skull was cut in half and the brain was removed. Then skull was dried, packed with material and tied back together.

Morticians then put the body back together. They strengthened the limbs and spinal column by inserting sticks under the skin and packed the body with clay and feathers, then reattached the skull. The body was covered with a white ash paste and the skin was refitted on the body. Finally the body was painted with manganese giving it a black color.

The red mummies, from about 2500 BC to 2000 BC, were made by a completely different method.  Instead of disassembling the body, they made many incisions in the trunk and shoulders to remove internal organs and dry the body cavity. They cut the head off so they could remove the brain.

They packed the body with various materials using sticks to strengthen it, and then sewed up the incisions. They placed the head back on the body and made a wig from tassels of human hair. A black clay "hat" held the wig in place.  Everything was then painted with red ochre.

See Mummy Tombs


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