The methods used by
the Chinchorros were quite different from those of the Egyptians. In fact,
it appears as if they made three types of mummies, though not during the
same time periods. Here are the two most common methods:
mummies: From about 5000 B.C. to 3000 B.C., the
Chinchorros literally took the dead person's body apart, treated it, and
reassembled it. The head, arms and legs were removed; the skin was often
removed, too. The body was heat-dried, and the flesh and tissue were
completely stripped from the bone.
was given to the skull. It was cut in half, about eyeball level, and the
brain was removed. The skull was then dried and packed with material and
tied back together (along with the jawbone).
Then it was time to
put the body was put back together. Morticians strengthened the limbs and
spinal column by inserting sticks under the skin. They packed the body
with various materials, including clay and feathers. Finally, they
reattached the skull.
the body was then covered with a white ash paste, filling the nooks and
crannies left by the reassembling process. The paste was also used to fill
out the person's normal facial features. The person's skin (including
facial skin with a wig attachment of short black human hair) was refitted
on the body, sometimes in smaller pieces, sometimes in one almost-whole
piece. Sometimes sea lion skin was used as well.
Then the skin (or,
in the case of children, who were often missing their skin layer, the
white ash layer) was painted with manganese--giving them a black color.
Many such mummies
have been recovered. The face of one Chinchorro mummy had been painted
many times, leading some archaeologists to suggest that the mummy had been
displayed for a long time before it was finally buried.
From about 2500
BC to 2000 BC, the Chinchorros made red mummies by a completely different
method. Rather than disassemble the body, they made many incisions
in the trunk and shoulders to remove internal organs and dry the body
cavity. The head was cut from the body so that the brain could be removed.
packed the body with various materials to return it to somewhat
more-normal dimensions, used sticks to strengthen it, and sewed up the
incisions. The head was placed back on the body, this time with a wig made
from tassels of human hair up to 60 cm long. A "hat" made out of
black clay held the wig in place. Except for the wig and often the
(black) face, everything was then painted with red ochre. Occasionally the
skin would be replaced on the body, but this was not a common practice
with red mummies.
Death by Bernardo Arriaza is
the primary book on the subject. You don't want to miss it if you
are fascinated by the Chinchorros. Mummy
Mummy Congress by Heather Pringle
devotes most of one chapter to the children's mummies of the Chinchorros.
It's an especially thoughtful and insightful account. Mummy
Mummies, Disease, and Ancient Cultures
by Aidan and Eve Cockburn and Theodore Reyman.
2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Mummy
(12/98) featured an article on the
Chinchorro mummies which discusses how the Chinchorro suffered from many
illnesses. One study suggests that 1 out of every 4 died before the first
birthday; 1 child out of 3 had infections that caused the leg bones to
decay; and 1 woman out of 5 had bones so weak that her vertebrae
splintered. For some of the causes and theories about their health
problems, don't miss this article.
(January/February 1999) featured an article on archaeological
finds in South America. Two Chinchorro photographs are printed: the
main one is an evocative shot of a naturally-made mummy (tousled hair and no clay face)
seated part way up a sand dune, possibly looking toward sea.
Unfortunately, almost no information is given about the body or the photo.
The second photo shows the clay face of an artificially-made Chinchorro mummy, as well as
some of the sticks and plant material used to build and bound the mummy
(after it was taken apart and dried).