Dec 29, 2016
Scans Unveil Secrets of the World's Oldest Mummies
The Chinchorro were a hunting and fishing people who lived from 10,000 to 3,400 B.C. on the Pacific coast of South America, at the edge of the Atacama desert.
They were among the first people in the world to mummify their dead. Their mummies date back some 7,400 years — at least 2,000 years older than Egypt's.
Now, researchers are hoping to use modern medical technology to reconstruct what they looked like in life, decode their genes and better understand the mysteries of this ancient civilization.
The 15 Chinchorro mummies, mostly children and unborn babies, were put through a CT scanner at the Los Condes clinic in the Chilean capital.
"We collected thousands of images with a precision of less than one millimeter," said chief radiologist Marcelo Galvez.
"The next phase is to try to dissect these bodies virtually, without touching them, which will help us preserve them for another 500,000 years."
Using high-tech computer processing, researchers are busy reconstructing the mummies' muscles and facial features.
"We want to see what they physically looked like, to reconstruct them and bring to life someone who died thousands of years ago," said Galvez.
Researchers are also hoping to learn more about how the Chinchorro mummified their dead.
The Chinchorro, who apparently had a complex understanding of human anatomy, would carefully remove the skin and muscles of the deceased.
Using wood, plants and clay, they reconstructed the body around the remaining skeleton, then sewed the original skin back on, adding a mouth, eyes and hair.
A mask was then placed over the face.
The result looks like something in between a statue and a person — eerily lifelike even after thousands of years.
All in the family
Mummification was an intimate process for the Chinchorro, said Veronica Silva, the head of the anthropology department at Chile's National Museum of Natural History.
"The family itself would make the mummy," she told AFP.
The earliest mummies were unborn fetuses and newborns, she said.
The mummies were all made using the same basic process, but each one shows unique "technological and artistic innovations," she said.
Read more at Discovery News