According to archaeologists, Chinchorro mummies held in a Chilean museum are starting to degrade, but the real problem is that new mummies being unearthed are being discovered already damaged. Climate change is reportedly to blame.
At least seven thousand years ago, the Chinchorro people lived along the coasts of southern Peru and northern Chile. The Chinchorro were unique in their burial practices in that they mummified their dead thousands of years before the Egyptians, creating the oldest known mummies in the world.
[quote text_size=”small” author=”– Bernardo Arriaza” author_title=”Physical anthropologist who discovered the mummies in 1917″]
Whereas the Egyptians considered only kings and other exalted citizens worthy of mummification, the Chinchorro accorded everyone in the community, regardless of age or status, this sacred rite.
Since the first Chinchorro mummy was uncovered in 1917, hundreds more have been unearthed. About 100 specimens held at the museum of the Universidad de Tarapaca in Arica, Chile are starting to degrade, with tissue changes that are causing bright and dark spots to appear, the Washington Post reported.
According to Marcela Sepulveda, an archaeologist with the museum, new mummies being discovered outdoors are being found damaged.
Arica, Chile, where the mummies are found, is called the driest place on Earth. Locals have said the region is changing, however, with increases in both humidity and precipitation.
Researchers note that many of the mummies found in the 1980s had no issues until about a decade ago, when they started deteriorating. The museum has been attempting to discover if climate changes are really the reason for the decay, and what can be done to better preserve the specimens.
After studying samples of the mummy skin and dried pig skin in different conditions, researchers have found bacterial “opportunists” that take advantage of more humid environments to use the skin as a nutrient and break it down, NBC News reported.
The Chinchorro mummies are not the only ancient artifacts at risk from a changing climate. Buildings in the medieval city of Leh in India were made for a high altitude desert and are not equipped to precipitation increases.