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Meet the Chinchorro mummies, the oldest ones in the world

Meet the Chinchorro mummies, the oldest ones in the world

By: Hernan Claro - 28 August, 2023

In the north of Chile, in the Arica y Parinacota Region, you can find the Chinchorro mummies. They are an amazing demonstration of human ingenuity and an invaluable testimony of the ancient civilizations who inhabited the area thousands of years ago.

These mummies are well-known as the oldest ones in the world, surpassing in age the famous Egyptian mummies. In this text, we will explore their fascinating history and the places where they can be seen from.

Origin and antiquity of the Chinchorro mummies

The Chinchorro mummies were created by the pre-Columbian Chinchorro culture that inhabited the coasts of the Atacamadesert between 7,000 and 1,500 B.C.

This ancient civilization developed specific worship related to death, which was demonstrated in the complexity of its mummification processes that preceded the Egyptian and Inca cultures, standing out nowadays for its great antiquity. Some date back more than 7,000 years.


Exhibition of Chinchorro mummies. Photo: @delpuertoluces

The Chinchorro mummification process

The archaeologist Max Uhle, considered the father of South American archaeology, classified the Chinchorro mummiesinto three categories: natural, which had been mummified without human intervention, those of complex preparation, and those that were covered with mud layer.

One of the techniques of the Chinchorro mummies consisted of filling the body with ashes, feathers, grass, and soil. Then, the head, which had been separated, was incorporated to dry, and fill it, and with a pastry, the flesh of the face was replaced, which once modeled was covered with the skin of the deceased’s face.

A variation of this technique was used with children, whose flayed and emaciated bodies were bandaged with skin strips and heads were painted with black clay, and their bodies with red clay, obtaining the name “red mummies.” These techniques demonstrate a prominent knowledge of anatomy and preservation.

Different styles of Chinchorro mummies. @delpuertoluces

Places where Chinchorro mummies can be seen

Were you fascinated by this, and would you like to know more? We will now tell you about the three main places where you can find this spectacular ancestral legacy:

1. San Miguel de Azapa Archaeological Museum

Located in the city of Arica, this museum is the main keeper of the Chinchorro mummies. You can see several mummies there and learn about the culture and mummification techniques used by the Chinchorro. This museum also has interactive and multimedia exhibits that provide a whole educational experience.

2. Site Museum Colón 10 of Arica

It is another museum located in the city of Arica where you can see the legacy of this ancient Chinchorro culture. This museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

3. National Museum of Natural History of Valparaíso

Located in the V Region, in Valparaiso, the National Museum of Natural History exhibits 4 mummies belonging to the category of “complex preparation” and they come from Arica.

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