Settlement And Artificial Mummification Of The Chinchorro Culture In The Arica And Parinacota Region

Adekunle Olanrewaju Jason
Nov 01, 2023 By Adekunle Olanrewaju Jason
Originally Published on Apr 13, 2022
Egyptian Fayum Mummy

Chinchorro is known for its excellent settlement and artificial mummification.

Chinchorro dates back to more than 7000 years, and it was built by marine hunter-gatherers who settled on the coast of Atacama, now Chile, which is the driest part in the world. They have records of their exceptional work at some of the driest places in the world.

Taking advantage of abundant marine resources provided by Humboldt current that supplied raw materials, allowing these gatherers to semi-settle on the banks of scarce rivers and ravine areas. The whole process of mummification is done by removing the organs, tissues, and intestines.

The head, arms, and legs were removed along with the skin, flesh, and tissues. They also fit a wig attachment of short black hair.


Chinchorro is divided into three main regions in which two places are within theregion of Arica, and the other one is mainly located in therural environment further south.

These regions together hold a testimony for the tradition of seamen and hunters who settled within thedry and humid coast in the northern part of the Atacama Desert.

The mummies found in Chinchorro sites were mostly buried a bit below the surface of the Earth. Some of the specialists suggest that this must have been a part of the tradition and culture, as these mummies must have been removed and reburied or reassembled for festivals and rituals.

The wear and tear on these mummies represent evidence of this.

History And Cultural Significance

These mummies are significant in the history and culture of Chinchorro because they are the oldest mummies dating back more than 7,000 years, and these mummies were preserved on purpose.

Chinchorro mummies are the oldest as these mummies predate the Egyptian mummies by at least 2,000 years. Also, Chinchorro mummies give clues about the culture of South American Chinchorro.

Chinchorro mummies show us the reliance of ancient society, which turned into a fishing civilization that let them adopt a sedentary lifestyle. Later, they were taught agricultural practices.

pharaoh sarcophagus wooden coffin and mummification

World Heritage Site

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Committee recognized Chinchorro culture as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on July 27, 2021, for their outstanding universal mummifying value. Chinchorro culture is the seventh Chilean site recognized in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.

Faldeos del Morros and Colon Museum, both located in urban Arica, are the most important representatives of Chinchorro funerary tradition nominated for world heritage status. 

Protection And Management

A collection of documents signed by Minister Consuelo Valdes, prepared by Universidad de Tarapaca (UTA) along with culture ministry, regional government, and local institutions in 1998, were sent to UNESCO for protecting these sites.

Corporacion Chinchorro Marka was formed in 2019, which brought UTA together along with cultural corporations and municipal camarons supported by the culture ministry for overseeing the management of these archaeological sites to protect and preserve them.

Chile, as of 2021, has seven sites achieving the highest level of heritage protection granted by UNESCO.

Other Miscellaneous Facts

Mummies were buried only a few centimeters below the surface level close to dwelling sites. The Chinchorro mummification process is much older than the Egyptian process, which is also a reason for Chinchorro mummies to be considered unique and important.

More than 300 Chinchorro mummies, painted black and red and a few having bandages, have been found. Chinchorro culture has excellent value and recognized global importance. Tools composed of plant materials and minerals as well as basic bone and shell instruments allowed for intense effects on marine resources.

Throughout time, Chinchorro refined intricate burial customs in which they disassembled and reconstructed the remains of some deceased men, children, and women from various social classes to produce 'fake' mummies.

The cause for the practice is unknown to the scientific community, while Arriaza has claimed that it could be related to arsenic poisoning in the water, which resulted in miscarriages, early deliveries, and other pregnancy and delivery complications.


Where is Chinchorro?

Chinchorro is in Chile.

Where did Chinchorro come from?

Chinchorro came from the Pacific coastal region. 

How old are Chinchorro mummies?

The oldest Chinchorro mummy dates back to 5050 BCE. 

Why did the Chinchorro make mummies?

Chinchorros made mummies to give their loved ones eternal life by preserving them. 

How were Chinchorro mummies preserved?

Chinchorro mummies were preserved naturally by removing their internal organs and replacing them with vegetables, fiber, or animal hair. 

Who discovered Chinchorro mummies?

Max Uhle discovered Chinchorro mummies.

Why are the settlements and artificial mummifications of Chinchorro culture in the Arica and Parinacota regions important?

As they bear evidence of artificial mummification, cemeteries, and the culture of marine hunter-gatherers, it is important to preserve these to pass on this knowledge to future generations.

Why and when were the settlements and artificial mummifications of Chinchorro culture in the Arica and Parinacota regions declared as World Heritage Sites?

In 2021, UNESCO declared this site as a World Heritage Site for Chinchorro's unique dedication to the preservation of the dead for their eternal life. 

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Written by Adekunle Olanrewaju Jason

Bachelor of Science specializing in Mass Communication.

Adekunle Olanrewaju Jason picture

Adekunle Olanrewaju JasonBachelor of Science specializing in Mass Communication.

With over 3+ years of professional experience, Olanrewaju is a certified SEO Specialist and Content Writer. He holds a BSc in Mass Communication from the University of Lagos. Throughout his dynamic career, Olanrewaju has successfully taken on various roles with startups and established organizations. He has served as a Technical Writer, Blogger, SEO Specialist, Social Media Manager, and Digital Marketing Manager. Known for his hardworking nature and insightful approach, Olanrewaju is dedicated to continuous learning and improvement.
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