Climate change is putting the Chinchorro mummies of ancient Chile at risk of rapid decomposition that will turn them into a black ooze.
The world’s oldest mummies, made by the Chinchorro people as early as 7,000 years ago in what is now northern Chile and southern Peru, are at risk of rapid decomposition. Scientists are warning that due to climate change and rising humidity levels, flourishing microbes are threatening to reduce the ancient remains into nothing more than a “black ooze.”
The University of Tarapaca’s archeological museum in Arica, northern Chile is already seeing the effects on some of its 120 Chinchorro mummies.
While the earliest known Egyptian mummy dates to around 3000 BC, it is believed that the Chinchorro mummies appeared around 5000 BC. The process involved removing the organs and replacing them with natural fibers and ash. The flesh was removed and replaced with clay, and a clay mask was put over the face before wrapping the bodies in reeds to dry.
The Chinchorro culture is notable in the fact that mummification was performed on all members of society, rather than restricting the practice to the elite. They were the only people preserving their dead among the other cultures in the area.
Naturally mummified remains were discovered along the arid Atacama desert coast dating to around 7000 BC.