The Chinchorro mummies of Chile, which have been preserved for at least 7,000 years, are turning into black slime due to rising humidity levels causing bacterial growth on the skin. More than one hundred mummies – the oldest in the entire world – are turning gelatinous as a result of the rapidly spreading bacteria. Chilean researchers are now seeking funds to preserve the deteriorating mummies before they are lost for good.
The Chinchorros were a people who inhabited the coast of the Atacama Desert in northern Chile and southern Peru between 7000 and 1500 B.C. The people of this culture relied on fishing, hunting and gathering for subsistence. Whilst the earliest known Chinchorro sites date to 7000 B.C., mummification, based on current evidence, dates to 5000 B.C. The Chinchorro mummies were first identified in 1917 by the German archaeologist, Max Uhle. Further excavations showed that such mummies were spread along the coast and concentrated between Arica and Camerones. It was in 1983, however, that the largest and best-preserved find of Chinchorro mummies was discovered. This discovery was made not by archaeologists, but by the Arica water company whilst laying a new pipeline near the foot of El Morro.
- The 7,000-Year-Old Chinchorro Mummies of the Andes
- School children uncover 7,000-year-old mummy in Chile
- 7,000-year-old Chinchorro mummies are turning gelatinous
Valley of the Moon in the Atacama Desert (Reinhard Jahn Mannheim/ Wikimedia Commons )
Chinchorro mummies are one of the wonders of Andean archaeology and appear to reflect the spiritual beliefs of the ancient Chinchorro people, although the exact reason why they mummified their dead is unknown. Some scholars maintain that it was to preserve the remains of their loved ones for the afterlife, while another commonly accepted theory is that there was an ancestor cult of sorts, since there is evidence of both the bodies traveling with the groups and of being placed in positions of honour during major rituals, as well as a delay in the final burial itself.
Unlike the ancient Egyptians, who reserved mummification for royalty and the elite, the Chinchorro community accorded everyone, regardless of age or status, this sacred rite. The decision of egalitarian preservation is proven in the mummification of all members of society and included men, women, the elderly, children, infants, and miscarried foetuses. In fact, it is often the case that children and babies received the most elaborate mummification treatments.
Often Chinchorro mummies were elaborately prepared by removing the internal organs and replacing them with vegetable fibres or animal hair. In some cases, an embalmer would remove the skin and flesh from the dead body and replace them with clay.
Radiocarbon dating reveals that the oldest discovered Chinchorro mummy was that of a child from a site in the Camarones Valley, about 60 miles south of Arica in Chile, and dates from around 5050 BC.
The head of an ancient Chinchorro mummy from northern Peru (Photo by Pablo Trincado/ Wikimedia Commons )
Despite surviving for at least seven millennia, they began deteriorating about 10 years ago, when moisture began to allow bacteria to grow, said Ralph Mitchell, a Harvard University professor emeritus of applied biology. About 120 mummies, which radiocarbon dating date from 5050 BC and before, are rapidly deteriorating in the archaeological museum of the University of Tarapacá in Arica, Chile.
Reuters reports that Sergio Medina Parra, anthropologist and department head at University of Tarapaca in the northern city of Arica. is leading an attempt to get the Chinchorro mummies recognized by UN heritage body UNESCO as a world heritage site.
"The application is not a goal in itself, but the start of a process, of improved conservation tools, with the Chilean state and the international community," he said [via Reuters].
Only around 300 Chinchorro mummies have been discovered over the years. It is essential they are protected in order to preserve the last traces of this fascinating ancient culture.
Chinchorro mummy, south coast of Peru or north coast of Chile, 5000-2000 BC - San Diego Museum
World's oldest mummies 'turned to black slime by monster germs because of global warming'Link copied
One of the Chinchorro mummies
When you subscribe we will use the information you provide to send you these newsletters. Sometimes they'll include recommendations for other related newsletters or services we offer. Our Privacy Notice explains more about how we use your data, and your rights. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Archaeologists face a race against time to protect the collection of so-called Chinchorro mummies, which date back as far as 5000 BC, after their preserved skin began turning
The mummies are considered the world's oldest examples and among archaeology's most amazing discoveries.
They had been buried under the sands of the Atacama Desert, a volcanic region along the north Chilean coast which receives hardly any rain, until being discovered there
around 100 years ago virtually intact.
For the first 90 or so years after their discovery, the amazing collection which includes mummified foetuses, hardly deteriorated.
But in the past few years museum staff noticed the skins of dozens of the 120 exhibits were turning into a black sludge.
Mariela Santos, curator at the University of Tarapaca museum where they are exhibited, told journalist Chris Kraul: "I knew the situation was critical and that we'd have to ask
He contacted Harvard scientist Ralph Mitchell, who specialises in finding out why relics disintegrate.
His probe, using DNA tests over months, concluded germs eating the mummies were common microorganisms that had multiplied significantly in the last decade de to higher humidity levels as a result of global warming.
In turn, this made them into monster consumers of collagen, the largest substance in mummified skin.
Mitchell believes the disintegrating mummies is a warning to museum curators worldwide, that prized artefacts and objects could deteriorate unless more is done.
He said: "How broad a phenomenon this is, we don't really know.
"The Arica case is the first example I know of deterioration caused by climate change. But there is no reason to think it is not damaging heritage materials everywhere.
It's affecting everything else."
The Atacama Desert where the mummies were found nearly 100 years ago
The mummies are being turned into black slime
Tests showed common microorganisms were responsible
The mummies were found during an expedition by German explorer Max Uhle's to Arica in 1919.
The people who mummified their dead were early hunter gathers rather than the advanced Egyptians, better known for mummification.
The early tribe also allowed all from the community to be mummified rather than the leading elite.
Bernardo Arriaza, a professor at the University of Tarapaca's Institute of Advanced Research, said: "Chinchorro mummies were not restricted to the dead of the top classes.
This community was very democratic," said Arriaza, who for 30 years has led archaeological digs on the 500-mile stretch of Chilean coastline where most of the mummies have been found.
But Mitchell is optimistic of a solution.
He and the University of Tarapaca will spend 24 months looking at ways to stop the rot, more than likely through humidity and temperature control.
He said: "The next phase of the project is to look at how you protect the mummies and at possible physical and chemical solutions to the problem, which we don't have yet."
The Chilean government has also budgeted £36 million for a new museum scheduled to open in 2020 to house the mummies, which will need the correct climate controls built in.
Arriaza said: "Optimally, each mummy will be encased in its own glass cubicle in the new museum and have its own 'microclimate.'
Other experts fear that once a mummy is removed from its resting place it continues to deteriorate until nothing is left.
Ancient Chilean Mummies Now Turning into Black Ooze: Here's Why
The famous Chinchorro mummies, which have remained preserved in Chile for more than 7,000 years, are now under threat from increased levels of moisture.
Humid air is allowing bacteria to grow, causing the mummies' skin "to go black and become gelatinous," said Ralph Mitchell, a professor emeritus of applied biology at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who examined the rotting mummies.
The rapid deterioration began within the past 10 years, and has affected some of the 120 mummies that are housed at the University of Tarapacá’s archeological museum in the northern port city of Arica, the researchers said.
It was unclear why some of these mummies started degrading into black ooze, so Chilean preservationists asked Mitchell and his colleagues to study the microflora, or the bacteria, on the mummies' bodies.
Tests showed that the bacteria aren't from ancient organisms. They are simply bacteria that normally live on people's skin, Mitchell said. He called the bacteria "opportunist" because "as soon as the right temperature and right moisture appeared, they started to use the skin as nutrients." [In Photos: Chilean Mummy Shows Signs of Arsenic Poisoning]
Unless the mummies can be kept under the right temperature and humidity conditions, "the native microorganisms are going to chew these guys right up," Mitchell said.
In their experiments, Mitchell and his team adjusted the air's humidity levels from dry to damp, looking at how each humidity level affected the skin of the mummies. The researchers did their initial experiments on pig skin, to limit the amount of mummy skin they needed to use.
Humidity levels in the region of the museum have increased recently, Sepulveda said. Normally, Arica is arid &mdash it is located near the Atacama Desert, the driest desert in the world (outside of Earth's polar regions).Chile's changing climate may explain why the mummies are disintegrating, said Marcela Sepulveda, a professor of archaeology at the University of Tarapacá.They found that the skin began to fall apart after 21 days at high humidity. To save the mummies, the museum will need to keep the humidity in the room where the mummies are stored between 40 and 60 percent, the researchers found. Higher humidity could cause more degradation, and lower humidity could damage the mummies' skin, Mitchell said.
"It hasn't rained in parts of that desert for 400 years," Mitchell said.
But in the past 10 years, fog has come in off the Pacific, possibly because of climate change, Mitchell said. And "because there is more moisture around, the mummies have begun to disintegrate," he said.
Efforts to preserve the mummies are underway. The museum's researchers are measuring and adjusting the humidity, temperature and light in the room where the mummies are housed on a daily basis, Sepulveda said.
The Chinchorro were a hunter-gatherer group of people who lived along the coast of modern-day Chile and Peru, and they mummified people from all levels of society.These measures could help preserve the Chinchorro mummies, which are at least 2,000 years older than Egyptian mummies. Radiocarbon dating puts the youngest mummies at 5050 B.C., making them the world's oldest man-made mummies, Mitchell said. (Some older human remains may have been mummified by natural processes.)
"These aren't just kings, these are ordinary people," Mitchell said. [Image Gallery: Inca Child Mummies]
Saving the World’s Oldest Mummies From Rot in a Warmer, Wetter World
In Arica, Chile, the University of Tarapacá’s archaeological museum houses nearly 120 mummies, some of which are the oldest purposefully preserved bodies on earth. They come from the ancient Chinchorro peoples, who once lived across modern Peru and Chile and who preserved their dead through an elaborate process that involved covering the body and face in a thick paste made of ash, protein and water. Certain specimens date as far back as 5050 B.C., centuries before the first ancient Egyptian mummy.
But recently a troubling mystery began to unfold at the museum. According to Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, researchers noticed that many of the mummies were beginning to visibly degrade and producing a strange black goo. So the museum turned to outside experts in hopes of finding the cause of the rot and a way to prevent it.
Included in the effort was Ralph Mitchell, a Harvard biologist known for his work identifying causes of decay. Together with his team, Mitchell set to work evaluating and isolating the microbes on samples of both the preserved and decaying skin. The team cultured the organisms and then tested their effect on surrogate samples of pig skin in different conditions.
What they discovered were "opportunistic" microbes that typically live on people’s skin. When activated by moisture, these microbes chow down on dead tissue. But why had the bacteria only begun to cause problems over the last ten years?
The answer, according to Marcela Sepulveda, a professor of archaeology at the University of Tarapacá, may be found in Earth’s changing climate. Arica is located right next to the Atacama Desert, one of the driest deserts in the world. But recent changes in weather patterns have brought fog to the region, increasing the area’s moisture level.
The air in the museum is more humid, too, and that's given the microbes an opportunity to feast on mummy remains. To prevent the decay, the museum is now keeping humidity levels between 40 and 60 percent and is conducting further investigations into the affect of light and temperature on the bodies.
But there’s a larger problem scientists now hope to solve: As climate change continues, is there a way to help prevent the bacterial destruction of the possibly hundreds of Chinchorro mummies still buried throughout the region? The answer won’t come easy. In the meantime, the future of the undiscovered ancient dead and their artifacts will depend on humidity’s whim.
About Laura Clark
Laura Clark is a writer and editor based in Pittsburgh. She's a blogger with Smart News and a senior editor at Pitt magazine.
World's oldest mummies are melting into black slime as scientists battle to save them from skin-eating bacteria
The world&aposs oldest mummies are melting into black slime as bacteria ravages the human remains.
Experts claim it&aposs a race against time to save the rare specimens, which are thought to date from between 5000 BC to 1500 BC.
The nearly 300 "Chinchorro" mummies were recovered in the Atacama Desert, near the border between Chile and Peru.
But after they were moved from the desert - which is known as the driest in the world - bacteria has begun to feed on the remains.
Chilean researchers are desperately seeking conservation aid to prevent this, which they believe can be done by changing the surrounding humidity and temperature.
As part of their fundraising efforts they are attempting to get the area they were found recognised by UN heritage body UNESCO as a world heritage site to save the Chinchorro mummies.
After thousands of years buried under desert sand, humidity is now assisting the bacteria to thrive on the skin, said biology professor Ralph Mitchell, who examined the remains.
He told Live Science : "As soon as the right temperature and right moisture appeared, they started to use the skin as nutrient."
The mummies need to be kept under specific conditions of temperature and humidity to prevent deterioration.
They are currently kept at Azapas San Miguel Museum in in Arica city, in northern Chile.
Sergio Medina Parra, anthropologist and department head at University of Tarapaca - where the remains have been kept - explained.
He said: "The dates that we have for the bodies are from 7,000 years ago so they have more relative antiquity in terms of intentional work on the human body than that found in Egypt."
Mr Parra is leading an attempt to get the Chinchorro mummies recognized by UN heritage body UNESCO as a world heritage site.
He said: "The application is not a goal in itself, but the start of a process, of improved conservation tools, with the Chilean state and the international community."
Unlike the Egyptians who mummified only their elites, the Chinchorro mummies are made up of a wider social sample which includes children and miscarried foetuses.
Researchers believe a huge number of civilians died when nearby volcanoes contaminated the drinking water in the area with arsenic.
While many cultures throughout the world have sought to focus on preserving the dead elite, the Chinchorro tradition performed mummification on all members of their society, making them archaeologically significant. The decision of egalitarian preservation is proven in the mummification of the relatively less productive members of society (meaning those who could not contribute to the welfare of others the elderly, children, infants and miscarried fetuses). It is often the case that children and babies received the most elaborate mummification treatments.  
29% of known Chinchorro mummies were mummified naturally. The earliest one, the Acha man, dates to 7020 BCE. 
The artificial mummies of Chinchorro are believed to have first appeared around 5000 BCE and reached a peak around 3000 BCE. Often Chinchorro mummies were elaborately prepared by removing the internal organs and replacing them with vegetable fibers or animal hair. In some cases, an embalmer would remove the skin and flesh from the dead body and replace them with clay. Radiocarbon dating reveals that the oldest discovered anthropogenically modified Chinchorro mummy was that of a child from a site in the Camarones Valley, about 60 miles (97 km) south of Arica in Chile and dates from around 5050 BCE. The mummies continued to be made until about 1800 BCE, making them contemporary with Las Vegas culture and Valdivia culture in Ecuador and the Norte Chico civilization in Peru.
Since 1914, when Max Uhle began his work in Arica, an estimated 282 mummies have been found by archaeologists.  Morro-I, at the base of the Morro de Arica, revealed 96 bodies at the unstratified (i.e., there are no discernible layers of stratigraphy, hindering relative dating techniques), mostly loose sand at the slope of the hill. Fifty-four adults were found: 27 female, 20 male and 7 of indeterminate sex 42 children were also found: 7 female, 12 male, 23 indeterminate.  This sample size suggests that the Chinchorro did not favor mummifying one sex over others.
The mummies may have served as a means of assisting the soul in surviving, and to prevent the bodies from frightening the living.  A more commonly accepted theory is that there was an ancestor cult of sorts,  since there is evidence of both the bodies traveling with the groups and placed in positions of honor during major rituals and a delay in the final burial itself.  Also, the bodies (which were always found in the extended position) were elaborately decorated and colored (even later repainted), and are thought to be reinforced and stiffened in order to be carried on reed litters and consequently displayed.  However, since the society is a preceramic one, as well as slightly nomadic, it is somewhat difficult to determine through archaeological records the reasons why the Chinchorro felt the need to mummify the dead.
The representatives of the Chinchorro culture was determined by mitochondrial haplogroup A2. 
Dr. Bernardo Arriaza is a Chilean physical anthropologist who contributed a lot of the knowledge about Chinchorro mummification. Starting in 1984, he published numerous studies on the subject. In 1994, Arriaza created a classification of the Chinchorro mummies that is widely used.  His book "Beyond Death: The Chinchorro Mummies of Ancient Chile  " was published by the Smithsonian and also translated into Spanish.
Preparation of mummies Edit
While the overall manner in which the Chinchorro mummified their dead changed over the years, several traits remained constant throughout their history. In excavated mummies, archaeologists found skin and all soft tissues and organs, including the brain, removed from the corpse. After the soft tissues had been removed, sticks reinforced bones while the skin was stuffed with vegetable matter before reassembling the corpse. The mummy received a clay mask even if the mummy was already completely covered in dried clay a process which the body was wrapped in reeds left to dry out for 30 to 40 days.
Uhle categorized the types of mummification he saw into three categories: simple treatment, complex treatment, and mud-coated mummies. He believed that these occurred chronologically, the mummification process becoming more complex as time went on.  Since then, archaeologists have expanded upon this explanation and have (for the most part) agreed upon the following types of mummification: natural, black, red, mud-coated and bandage mummies.   Mummification can also be described as externally prepared mummies, internally prepared mummies (Egyptian Pharos), and reconstructed mummies (the Chinchorro), according to Andean Archaeologists.  Further, it turns out that the types of mummification used overlap with each other, and mummies of different types have been found all in the same tomb.  The two most common techniques used in Chinchorro mummification were the Black mummies and the Red mummies.
Natural mummification Edit
Of the 282 Chinchorro mummies found thus far, 29% of them were results of the natural mummification process (7020 BC-1300 BCE).  In northern Chile, environmental conditions greatly favor natural mummification. The soil is very rich in nitrates which, when combined with other factors such as the aridity of the Atacama Desert, ensure organic preservation. Salts halt bacterial growth the hot, dry conditions facilitate rapid desiccation, evaporating all bodily fluids of the corpses. Soft tissues, as a result, dry before they decay and a naturally preserved mummy is left.  Even though the Chinchorro people did not mummify the bodies artificially, the bodies were still buried wrapped in reeds with grave goods. 
The black mummy technique Edit
The black mummy technique (5000 to 3000 BCE) involved taking the dead person's body apart, treating it, and reassembling it. The head, arms, and legs were removed from the trunk the skin was often removed, too. The body was heat-dried, and the flesh and tissue were completely stripped from the bone by using stone tools. Evidence exists that the bones were dried by hot ashes or coal. After reassembly, the body was then covered with a white ash paste, filling the gaps with grass, ashes, soil, animal hair and more. 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. Sea lion skin was sometimes 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 black manganese giving their color. 
The red mummy technique Edit
The red mummy technique (2500 BCE to 2000 BCE) was a technique in which rather than disassemble the body, many incisions were made 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, after which the skin would be pasted back on, which would often just be covered with a clay mask. The body was packed with various materials to return it to somewhat more-normal dimensions, sticks used to strengthen it, and the incisions sewn up using reed cord. 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. 
Mud coat Edit
The final style of Chinchorro mummification was the mud-coat (3000-1300 BCE). Ecologically speaking, at the time of the Chinchorro culture the region was relatively stable. It has been suggested by environmentalists that the incredible preservation of these mummies is also influenced by the pedogenic (the evolution of soil) creation of clays and gypsum, which act as cementing agents, and the latter as a natural desiccant. The malleable clay allowed for the morticians to mold and create the colorful appearances of mummies, with the added bonus of the fact that the foul smell of the desiccating mummy would be covered.  Artisans no longer removed the organs of the dead instead a thick coat of mud, sand and a binder like egg or fish glue was used to cover the bodies. Once completed the mummies were cemented into their graves. The change in style may have come from exposure to outsiders and their different cultures, or from the association of disease with the rotting corpses.
Bandage technique Edit
The bandage technique (guessed to be 2620-2000 BCE, but there is a lack of radiocarbon dating) has only been found to be present in three infants. The technique is a mixture of black and red mummies, in that the body was taken apart and reinforced in the style of black mummies but the head was treated in the same way as red mummies are. Animal and human skin were used to wrap the body in the place of clay. Further, the bodies were found to be painted with red ocher while the heads were painted with black manganese. 
At least one Chinchorro mummy bears remarkable witness to the antiquity of tattooing in the region. The remains of a male with a mustache-like dotted line tattooed above his upper lip and dating to 1880 +/- 100 BCE (2563–1972 cal BCE) is believed to represent the oldest direct evidence of tattooing in the Americas and the fourth-oldest such evidence in the world.  
Face to face with the past
Other evidence of human sacrifice has been found among a group of superbly preserved mummies some 3500 years old, but whilst they have Caucasian features, red-blond hair and even tartan clothing their discovery in the Takla Makan Desert in China has understandably caused consternation! Yet the presence of ancient Europeans in China must be connected with the fact that the region lay at the crossroads of ancient trade routes between China and Europe. The vast expanses of the Eurasian Steppes were also inhabited by Scythian nomads who also mummified their dead with great success to judge from mummies such as the so-called 'Ice Maiden', recently discovered in the permafrost in the Altai Mountains between Siberia and Outer Mongolia.
A Peruvian male mummy wearing a textile headband © Mummies have also been found in Alaska, southwest USA, Italy, Australia and Japan, and every one of them can reveal much about the times in which they lived. Since most of their cultures were pre-literate, their actual remains are often the only means of finding out about them, and bearing in mind that the majority of mummies recovered today are part of rescue excavations, modern examination techniques are now virtually non-destructive. From the early days of X-ray analysis, CAT-scans (computerised axial tomography), endoscopy, electron microscopy and DNA analysis for example are now used to provide valuable information regarding lifestyle, profession, relationships, health, disease, diet and even drug use of those living thousands of years ago.
. human remains were once the very last thing archaeologists were concerned with in their haste to reach the grave goods.
Although it has been said that to look upon a mummy is to come face to face with our own past, human remains were once the very last thing archaeologists were concerned with in their haste to reach the grave goods. Yet the actual remains of those who created the civilisations in the first place are surely our most precious legacy from the ancient world, and therefore must finally be treated as such.
DNA Identifies Origins of World's Oldest Natural Mummy
The skulls and other human remains from P.W. Lund&aposs Collection from Lagoa Santa, Brazil kept in the Natural History Museum of Denmark.
Natural History Museum of Denmark
Scientists discovered the ancient human skeleton known as the “Spirit Cave Mummy” back in 1940, hidden in a small rocky cave in the Great Basin Desert in northwest Nevada. But it wouldn’t be until the 1990s that radiocarbon dating techniques revealed the skeleton was some 10,600 years old, making it the oldest natural mummy ever found.
After a long legal battle, advanced DNA sequencing revealed the Spirit Cave Mummy is related to a modern Native American tribe, which has long claimed the cave as part of its ancestral homeland. The mummy has now been definitively linked to the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe of Nevada.
The striking discovery came as part of a groundbreaking genetic study, published in Science magazine, which analyzed several controversial ancient remains found from Alaska to Patagonia. Its findings are enabling scientists to track the movements of early human groups as they spread quickly across the Americas during the Ice Age.
The new study also challenges the longstanding theory that a different group, known as Paleoamericans, may have populated North America before Native Americans did. As part of the new study, the researchers sequenced the DNA of a group of 10,400-year-old human remains found at Lagoa Santa, Brazil in the 19th century. Earlier studies based on cranial morphology—or examination of the skulls’ shape—had led to the theory that the Lagoa Santa skeletons could not be Native American because their skull shapes were different.
“Our study proves that Spirit Cave and Lagoa Santa were actually genetically closer to contemporary Native Americans than to any other ancient or contemporary group sequenced to date,” study leader Eske Willeslev of University of Cambridge and the University of Copenhagen, said in a press release.
Professor Eske Willerslev with Donna and Joey, two members of the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone tribe.
"Looking at the bumps and shapes of a head does not help you understand the true genetic ancestry of a population,” Willeslev added. “We have proved that you can have people who look very different but are closely related."
In addition to the Spirit Cave and Lagoa Santa remains, the study also analyzed DNA from the Lovelock skeletons (also from Nevada), an Inca mummy and the 9,000-year-old milk tooth of a young girl found in Trail Creek Cave in Alaska.
The legal battle over the fate of the Spirit Cave Mummy goes back to 2000, when the U.S. Bureau of Land Management decided against repatriating the remains. The Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe sued the government for violating the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and a district court judge urged the BLM to reconsider. The case dragged on until 2015, when the tribe allowed Willerslev and his team to conduct genome sequencing on DNA extracted from the mummy’s skull.
After the DNA analysis proved the mummy was in fact related to present-day Native Americans, the skeleton was returned to the tribe in 2016. Reburied in a private ceremony in 2018, the Spirit Cave Mummy is now finally at rest among his modern-day descendants.
World’s oldest mummies undergo scans & DNA tests to shed light on ancient anatomy
Fifteen of the mummies, mostly children and unborn babies, were put through computerized axial tomography (CAT) scans last week at the Los Condes clinic in Santiago, Chile, AFP reported on Sunday.
&ldquoWe collected thousands of images with a precision of less than one millimeter,&rdquo said chief radiologist Marcelo Galvez.
Researchers are now set to perform a virtual facelift on the ancient mummies, reconstructing their facial features and muscles by using hi-tech processing.
&ldquoThe next phase is to try to dissect these bodies virtually, without touching them, which will help us preserve them for another 500,000 years," Galvez said.
He went on to state that researchers want to see what the Chinchorro people physically looked like, and &ldquobring to life someone who died thousands of years ago."
DNA samples will also be taken, so that researchers can &ldquounderstand their way of life &ndash from their diet to whether we Chileans still carry their genes,&rdquo Veronica Silva, the head of the anthropology department at Chile&rsquos National Museum of Natural History, told AFP.
Researchers are also hoping to learn more about how the Chinchorro &ndash a hunting and fishing people who lived from 10,000 to 3,400BC on the Pacific coast of South America &ndash mummified their dead, particularly as their mummies are the oldest in the world.
&ldquoThe Chinchorro mummies date to 7,400 years ago. That is to say, this system. existed 2,000 years before the first mummifications even began in Egypt,&rdquo Silva said.
The ancient civilization's mummification process involved removing the skin and muscles of the deceased. They would then reconstruct the body around the remaining skeleton by using wood, plants and clay. They then sewed the original skin back on, along with a mouth, eyes and hair. A mask was then placed over the face, resulting in something between a statue and a person.
However, the CAT scans have already produced at least one surprise, with researchers learning that the smallest mummy wasn&rsquot actually a mummy at all.
&ldquoThere was no bone structure inside. It was just a figurine, possibly a representation of an individual who could not be mummified,&rdquo Silva said.
Around 180 Chinchorro mummies have been discovered since 1903, all of which were found outdoors, near the beach, as the Chinchorro did not build pyramids or other structures to house them. The civilization left behind only its mummies, leaving no other traces of its existence.
The use of CAT scans on the mummies comes less than two months after researchers appealed to UNESCO to grant the mummies World Heritage status, in an effort to find a way to stop them from decaying into black slime.
What Was The Reason Behind Red And Black Mummies?
Preservation started with foetuses and infants (maybe because of high fetal mortality in the arsenic-rich desert) prior to advancing to adulthood. There were five different styles over a range of around 4,000 Years. Making the dark or black mummies included taking the dead individual’s body totally separated, treating it and afterward reassembling it, skin and all. The red ones were made by making little incisions to eliminate interior organs and afterward drying the body holes.
Both were normally loaded down with sticks, vegetable fiber, animal hairs and reeds (to round out the structures), decorated with hairpieces, and veiled with clay over the countenances – the black Mummies were painted in manganese and the red mummies were painted in ochre.