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Andean Mummification

"The bodies were so intact that they lacked neither hair, eyebrows, nor eyelashes. They were in clothes just as they had worn when alive." - Quote from Garcilaso de la Vega, son of a Spanish conquistador captain and Inca princess, 1609.

The earliest evidence for mummification in the central Andean region of South America (parts of present-day Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador) dates back 9000 years. Most of the mummies found to date are naturally mummified but this region is also home to the oldest deliberately preserved mummies in the world - the Chinchorro mummies of northern Chile which date back about 7000 years ago.

Many different cultures lived in the Andean region and the treatment of the dead varied considerably. Deliberate mummification was practised by some cultures but many were preserved by assisting the body to mummify using the natural conditions.

In the Middle Horizon period (600-1000 CE) the dead were wrapped in a seated, upright position within mummy bundles. The body was placed on a basket or gourd and then wrapped with fabric. The positioning of the body and the fabric bindings served to draw out the decomposing fluids. False heads and human hair wigs were often attached to the bundles.

This practice continued through the Late Intermediate period (1000-1476 CE), with both fabric and rope bindings used for these bundles. The mummies were often buried with every day items such as ceramics, clothing and other tools and utensils.

During the Inca Empire (1476-1534 CE) the Spanish recorded detailed accounts of the mummified bodies of Inca sovereigns being paraded through the streets. These mummies were cared for by attendants and were exhibited during religious and state ceremonies.

Grave goods
Chimu culture ceramics were made during the Late Intermediate Period (1000-1476 CE) where the practice of wrapping the deceased within a mummy bundle before burial was common. The Chimor kingdom extended from the river valleys of northern Peru to the central coast, and the ceramics occur across this large area. The ceramics are characteristically black in colour, which is the result of the technique of firing used in their manufacture. Vessels such as these were often placed in the grave with the deceased, along with other everyday items or items signifying wealth and prestige.

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