Two farm laborers made an important discovery last week in the northern desert region of Chile. They reported the find to the South American republic’s national police. Experts revealed that they had found the mummified remains of three native Chileans who died approximately 900 years ago: more than 400 years before the arrival of European conquerors and explorers. They are believed to date from 1,000 A.D. to 1400 A.D.
The remains of two children and one woman were found associated with several ceramic toys and vessels that may date to the time of Copiapó culture that once thrived along the sea shore that faces the cold and arid Atacama Desert.
According to officers with Chile’s agency that investigate environmental and cultural patrimony issues, the mummies were wrapped in cloth made from hair taken from one of South America’s camelid quadrupeds: alpaca, vicuña, or llama, as well as vegetable fibers. The cloth covering explains the relative good state of preservation of the mummies. The cold, dry air of the region is also a contributing factor.
Experts believe that the children were aged between 5 to 7 years at the time of death, while the woman reached an age between 50 or 60. A leg on one of the mummies is missing. This is the first such find in the area, which lies about 500 miles north of Santiago, the national capital. It leads experts to believe that there may be other mummies buried there, thus piquing their concern that looters may be attracted to the area.
The evidence was sent to Santiago for analysis by government experts. Ultimately, the mummies may be returned to the Atacama region for study at Atacama University. The mummies were found near a small town known as Iglesia Colorado, which lies near Chile’s border with neighboring Argentina.
Anthropologist Marcela Urízar of Atacama University said “until now, there had been no discovery of this importance in the region. It is unique for its type in, for examples, the textiles: we have a process of wrapping, which means at that time to wrap in textiles. It is common to see this from Antofagasta (ed. Note: a port city on the Pacific coast) towards the north.” The mummies were left behind by a pre-Inca culture, said, Urízar. “It is the first time that we have seen something like this. The fact of also having toys, such as a bow, that is associated with this. And it may have another interpretation in that is a way of life: while it is true that these are agricultural communities that produce ceramics, they also hunted and carried out other activities.”
When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in South America in the early 1500s, the Inca empire extended south from Peru and into the northernmost areas of Chile and Argentina. Various Amerindian peoples remain in Chile and neighboring Argentina: among them are the Atacameno, Quechua, Kolla, Mapuche, and Diaguita peoples.