Perched on the sheer cliffs and rocky beaches that stretch from the Arica region in northern Chile to its neighbors Tana and Moquegua in Peru, the Chinchorra culture looks like one of many pre-Columbian societies that inhabited South America long ago. 10,000 years.
An ancient community of fishermen, clinging to the cold wealth of the Pacific, who would hardly get a small page in prehistory if it were not for a funerary tradition that makes them unique: they knew and practiced mummification long before it spread in ancient Egypt.
"They all mummified. The hammocks were not buried"Valeslka Laborde, responsible for heritage and culture in the Camarones area, epicenter of this culture, explains to Efe.
"The idea is that they would accompany them, if I moved I would take my body with me so that it would continue to accompany me and be with the family"adds Laborde, surrounded by dozens of vestiges exposed to heat, wind and salt.
According to the few data available, the technique of "black mummies" It is the oldest and most peculiar that exists, since the hammocks practically emptied the bodies.
They removed viscera and bones, and filled the interior with sticks, bird feathers and reeds, a type of plant endemic to the area with which they also wove mats, bags and other utensils for transport, conservation and fishing.
"The red mummies, which are 5,000 years old, would no longer have their bones, but only their viscera and holes were made in some parts of their extremities. So I think that the relevance that the hammocks have worldwide is the mummification technique and it will be a mystery for us because we do not know about their cultural practices, their language, we only have archaeological evidence that can make us suppose something"Laborde points out.
Abandoned in the open
The first chinchorro mummies appeared in Caleta Camarones, a valley that goes into the Atacama desert, at the beginning of the 20th century during a mission led by the German archaeologist Max Uhle, at a very shallow depth and with a surprising feature.
They lacked grave goods and were scattered in different places, without constituting cemeteries and with no other common characteristic than the fact that they all faced the ocean, the umbilical cord of this culture.
As the investigations progressed, hundreds more sprouted along the coast, in valleys such as Azapa and Lluta, and the hills of Arica.
With hardly any resources and state interest in its conservation until last year, after a herculean effort, UNESCO decided to include its settlement and mummification in the list of World Heritage Sites.
"It is essential that the territory and the people who live in the territory become part of this heritage to continue maintaining and conserving it, it is hard work, we work a lot with schools, with social organizations"adds the expert, who complains about the lack of support from the Chilean governments.
“The Chilean state is a state that does not invest in culture, in heritage, and less so in archaeology, we have a very large archaeological density, but very damaged, because anyone can come here, and extract something, and take it away, without anyone go to know"the Mint.
A new museum and a future archeological park
In addition to the many that are believed to still be buried, it is currently possible to observe a hundred mummies in two main locations: the San Miguel de Azapa archaeological museum, and the Colón 10 Site Museum, both in Arica, a city that Chile disputed. and won Peru and Bolivia thanks to the Pacific War (1879-1884).
In the first, the first three that reappeared are exhibited in a small showcase and in an adjoining room almost fifty more, arranged on stretchers, as if it were a morgue and visible only through a glass of multiple reflections.
In the museum of Sitio Colon 10 they rest in the same sand, under a glass platform, from which their skulls crowned with long hair scare away.
UNESCO’s decision to make them Chile’s seventh World Heritage Site has pushed the regional government to find their own building to create a museum of the Chinchorro culture, and to develop an archaeological park to protect the remains and promote excavation and the study.
“In the region of Arica and Parinacota there will be a new high standard museum to highlight the importance of the Chinchorro culture, the way to meet this ancient and ancient culture that dates back more than 10,000 years of history and that will be represented in this new museum for the Chinchorro culture"the governor, Jorge Díaz, revealed to Efe.
"More than 10,000 years of history are recreated and of course we have to take charge of this nomination, of this responsibility, since it is given to us, to preserve the Chinchorro culture and spread it" as is the case with their younger and more famous sisters, the Egyptian mummies.