Chinchorro culture

The chinchorro were a group of fishermen who inhabited the coast of the Atacama desert (in the north of present-day Chile ) between 7000 and 1500 BC. n. and. , from Peru (to the north) to Antofagasta (to the south), establishing its nucleus in the current city of Arica and the Camarones valley. It stands out among other groups of early hunter-gatherers for its exceptional funeral rites, being the first, in the world, to artificially mummify their dead.


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  • 1 History
  • 2 Location
  • 3 Art
  • 4 The mummies of the Chinchorro culture
    • 1 Mummification Techniques
  • 5 See also
  • 6 Sources


A possible antecedent of this culture is Acha , a site from 8000 BC. n. and. , located in the Azapa valley (Chile) which, although it does not present this type of mummification, is considered to be the beginnings of the Chinchorro funeral tradition. The hammocks are related to the Concha Hook culture and Abtao, with which it shares some technological aspects, particularly the harpoon. The hammocks are intertwined with the Quiani groups , which, after a simplification of mummification, would become the heirs of this culture and its long-standing tradition.



Location of the Chinchorro culture.

Despite its extreme aridity, the southern coast is extremely rich in marine resources due to the cold Humboldt current (Antarctic current that receives its name from the naturalist Alejandro de Humboldt ). In addition, the streams that reach the sea provide fresh water, as well as animal and plant species for different consumption needs. The name “chinchorro” derives from the beach of the same name in the city of Arica (Chile), where remains of this culture were found for the first time.



Eight mummies of the hammocks.

The Chinchorro artistic development was reflected, almost exclusively, in the delicate trousseau of the mummies and in a certain sense, in the elaborate treatment that the deceased received. They had turbans made of twisted vegetable or animal fiber ropes, adorned with shell and malachite beads, which covered the head intentionally deformed in life. The faces were covered by fine clay masks and the bodies were wrapped with elaborate textiles of animal and / or vegetable fiber as bands and cords. These combine different colors according to the time, prioritizing raw, ocher and terracotta tones. Some mummies have totora skirts. The bodies rest on vegetable fiber mats and animal skin sacks. Many of the mummies were accompanied by estolians, knives, harpoons, and other instruments. Sometimes,


The mummies of the chinchorro culture

Chinchorro mummies are the oldest examples of human mummified remains, dating back thousands of years before the mummies of Egypt . It is believed that they first appeared around 5000 BC. n. and. and reaching its maximum splendor around 3000 a. n. and. Chinchorras mummies were often prepared, made by removing internal organs and replacing them with plant fibers or hair. In some cases, the embalmer removed the skin and flesh from the dead body and replaced it with clay.

This culture is known worldwide for its elaborate child mummies. It is not clear why these nomadic settlers developed an elaborate ritual practice of death. Today it is known that in northern Chile there is a high concentration of mineral resources and arsenic concentration in the waters. High infant mortality led to strange funeral practices, initially the children were covered in mud and dried in the sun, their organs were filled with plants and decorations.

Chinchorras mummies are significant because during the periods of these mummies, everyone who died was mummified, including children, newborns and fetuses. This shows that it was not reserved for those of high rank or high status. Mummification was not a sign of social stratification.

Mummification Techniques

The two most common techniques used in mummification by chinchorros were black mummies and red mummies.


Black mummy technique.

  • Technique of the black mummies( 5000 to 3000 B.C.E.) this technique is the oldest, and was the dismemberment of the deceased, their treatment and later their settlement. Their heads, arms and legs were removed, often even their skin underwent this type of treatment. After the body was heated and fully dried, they were boned (extraction of the meat from the bones). After this treatment, the various parts of the body were repositioned and the body was covered with a white ash paste that filled the gaps left by the reconstruction process, this process was also used to restore the face. The previously removed skin was placed on the body, it had often been cut into small pieces, finally a human hair wig and black pants were added. Sometimes sea lion skin (sea lions) was used to wrap the corpse. Finally, the dead were painted with manganese pigments, which helped to give them a black background color.


Red mummy technique.

  • The Red Mummies Technique( 2500 to 2000 BC ) was a technique in which instead of dismantling the body, incisions were made on the trunk and shoulders to remove the internal organs and dry the internal cavity of the body. The head was severed from the body so that the brain could be removed. The body was filled with various materials to return to normal body dimensions, sticks were used to strengthen the body, and the incisions were sewn together. The head was placed on the body, this time with a wig made of hair tassels up to 60 cm long and a hat made of clay. Except for the wig and often the face, everything was later painted in red ocher.


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