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Open Collection of Student Writing (OCSW)

Death by Climate

Two thousand years prior to the ancient Egyptians, the Chinchorro people were mummifying everyone, and placing them in shallow family graves of 5 to 6 people. Most of the 280 mummies that have been found so far, have been that of fetus’s and newborn infants, and archaeologists speculate this is due to the high levels of arsenic in the atmosphere at the time (Arizza, pg. 225). With their knowledge of anatomy this ancient civilization “dismembered, skinned, and eviscerated” (Fagan, pg. 91), their deceased in one of four ways. Their methods were, Natural, Black, red-coated, and mud-coated mummification. Natural mummification was the first form used, making way for the process of the black maganese mummies which lasted from 5800-3800 BC.

The Chinchorro’s process of the red-mummies (Scarrre, pg. 339), lasted from 3800-2100 BC. It wasn’t as elaborate of the black maganese mummies had been. Without the dis-articulation “the bodies were partially eviscerated, and the central cavity was dried over coals” (Scarre, pg. 339). Yet, just as they had done with the black mummies, the Chinchorro people imbued their red-coated family members with various items such as: feathers, ash, soil, and shells.

The final form of mummification that the Chinchorro people used was the mud-coated. This lasted from 2100-1700 BC when they ceased mummification all together. These bodies were “smoke dried” (Scarre, pg. 339) before covered with mud and painted. Following this time period, the Chinchorro people ceased mummification of their dead. Archaeologists believe that this had something to do with the climate, and that climate is also the answer to why they have started to degrade at a rather rapid rate.

Held at a museum at Universidad de Tarapaca in Arica, the Chinchorro mummies have started to degrade and fall apart, their skin turning to black ooze (The Guardian, 2015). Marcela Sepulveda, a researcher at the museum claims that climate  and a good food source were the main reasons that these sedentary hunter gatherers started the mummification process’s, and as such can be evidence to why they stopped. Sepulveda and a team at the museum have been trying to recreate the climate that Arica had so long ago in hopes to stop this degradation, with no such luck. A report done by the United Nations in 2007, says that “the impacts of climate change are effecting many world heritage properties” (The Guardian 2015), and could affect many more in a more negative way in the future. This causes a time crunch for the survival of not only these mummies, but history herself.

Modern day Chileans are helping to dissect the DNA of these ancient people, in hopes to find answers to their own history, and many want to see if they share some of the same genes. With rapid deterioration, the world could end up losing so many answers before the questions are even asked. Only hope remains for whether humanity will be able to take direction from its past, learn from its mistakes, and evolve to a bigger and better future.



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