Chinchorro Bioarchaeology: Chronology and Mummy Seriation

by Bernardo T. Arriaza
Chinchorro Bioarchaeology: Chronology and Mummy Seriation
Bernardo T. Arriaza
Latin American Antiquity
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Bernardo T. Arriaza

The Chinchorros were a preceramicfishing society that inhabited the Atacama coast of southern Peru and northern Chile.from about 7020 to 11 10 B.C., and their antiquity is much greater than originally thought. Previous Chinchorro chronologies have.focused on seriatio~ offishing implements; this paper suggests anal.vsis of mummies as another ~lseful chronological tool. The Chinchorro system of artificial mummification, the oldest in the world, began about 5050 B.C, and was abandoned about 1720 B.C. Black, Red, Bandage, Mud-Coated, and Natural mummification styles represent diachroniccultural changes. In contrast to previous views, I argue here that thesophisticated Chinchorro mortuary practices originated locally, near Arica, spec1fica1l.v in the Camarones Gorge. The high concentration of cemeteries, high mortuary energy expenditure, presence of villages, and heav.v reliance on maritime subsistence, as inferred from mummies, artifacts and human bone analyses, are all indicators that the Chinchorros were an ear1.v sedentary maritime society. The ideological complexity and antiqu~ty of settlement of the Andear! coast therefore need reappraisal.

Bittmann (1982) recommends that Chin- chorro Culture," and "Chinchorro Tradichorro studies attempt to clarify Chin- tion" have been used to describe the Chin- chorro terminology, mummification tech-chorro people (Alvarez 1969; Bittmann and niques through time, origin, chronology, fate Munizaga 1976; Nuiiez 1969, 1976; Olmos of the Chinchorro people, role of mummifi- and Sanhueza 1984; Rivera 1975, to name a cation, and social implications. I have dis- few). The word "Chinchorro" is sometimes cussed all these points and others, including used alone, but it is not clear if this use refers the physical boundaries of Chinchorro ter- to artificially made mummies, natural mum- ritory (Arriaza 1993); this paper presents a mies, or to Chinchorro as a cultural group. synthesis of my answers to Bittmann's ques- At times "Chinchorro" is used as a synonym tions. for artificial mummification. I define Chin- chorro Culture as the preceramic and pre-

Terminology metallurgic (pre-smelting) fishing societies

Several terms, such as "Chinchorro," "Chin- that inhabited the Pacific coast of southern chorroid," "Chinchorro Complex," "Chin-Peru and northern Chile, buried their dead

Bernardo Arriaza rn Department of Anthropology and Ethnic Studies, University of Nevada, 4505 Maryland Park- way, Las Vegas, NV 891 54-5012 Latin American Antiquity, 6(1), 1995, pp. 35-55. Copyright 01995 by the Society for American Archaeology

Figure 1. External and internal representations of a Black mummy (the two figures on the left side) and of a Red mummy (the two figures on the right side).

in an extended position, and practiced both natural and artificial mummification. The people of the Chinchorro Culture inhabited the Atacama coast from at least 7020 to 1 1 10 B.C., a range much greater than any previ- ously reported for Chinchorro.

In this text I use the terms "Chinchorro," "Chinchorros," or "Chinchorro people" in- terchangeably with the concept of Chinchor- ro Culture. A Chinchorro mummy is a body from this culture, preserved either by natural or artificial means. Such mummies were commonly wrapped in a reed mat or camelid skin shroud and buried in an extended po- sition, on the back with legs extended or semiflexed, and often aligned in groups.

Cultural materials that help to define the Chinchorro Culture are harpoons, shell and cactus fishhooks, composite fishhooks, fish- hook weights, lithic knives, lanceolate lithic points, throwing sticks, and darts. Reed fibers and basketry materials also make up a large part of the funerary objects. Absence of ce- ramics, woven textiles, and metal artifacts typifies the Chinchorro Culture.

For millennia the Chinchorro people were deeply concerned with the afterlife and the proper care of the deceased. Their cemeteries were small but densely occupied, and there was no evidence of individuals with lavish grave goods, as seen in later agricultural so- cieties of the region, that may denote the ex- istence of an elevated social rank. Chinchorro cemeteries may contain mummies of several types, including Black, Red, Bandage, Mud- Coated, and Natural Chinchorro mummies (Figures 1-4). The Black, Red, and Bandage mummies are the most complex. It is my hypothesis that Chinchorro mummification techniques represent cultural transforma- tions over time that increased in complexity, declined, and eventually disappeared. Hence the use of "Chinchorro" to embrace only complex artificial mummification would be erroneous, because it would exclude the sim- pler Mud-Coated and Natural mummies. A total of about 208 Chinchorro mummies from at least 10 sites is known from rescue oper- ations and the literature. I estimate that about 7 1 percent were artificially mummified and

Figure 4. 4 child of Bandage style.

The Chinchorros were bound together by dynamic processes of common ideology. maritime technology, subsistence, and geo- graphic surroundings. It is the artificial mum- mification practices, their antiquity. and per- sistence through time that give Chinchorro Culture its unique quality. The mummifica- tion techniques, the oldest known in the world, are remarkable because Chinchorro was a technologically simple society.

Beyond Chinchorro Culture

"Quiani" is the term most often applied to the cultural phase that immediately follows the Chinchorro. However, there is much con- fusion surrounding the term. For example. Bird (1 943) divides the preceramic of Arica in two stages, "The Shell Fishhook Phase" (Quiani I) and "The Cactus Fishhook Phase" (Quiani 11), dated by Mostny (1964) at 4220 and 3680 B.C., respectively. Although Bird (1943) found one artificially prepared Chin- chorro mummy, it was not dated. The Bird cultural sequence is problematic because the maritime-based technology was exceptionally conservative for thousands of years. Moreover, it has been found that cactus and shell fishhooks coexisted much earlier than previously thought at the recently excavated coastal sites of Acha 2, ca. 7020 B.C. (Muiioz and Chacama 1993:39), and Camarones 17. ca. 4980 B.C. (Muiioz et al. 1993: 120-122).

Llagostera (1 989:63-64. 1992) calls Bird's Quiani I and Quiani I1 the Camarones Com- plex and Quiani Complex, respectively (Fig- ure 5), and states that Chinchorro artificial mummification practices peaked during the later Quiani Complex (Quiani 11). This is a use of the terms Quiani and Camarones for Chinchorro that could lead to misunderstandings.

Because the fishhook evidence from Acha 2 and Camarones 17 calls into serious ques- tion the theories of Bird (1 943) and Llagos- tera (1992), I suggest that Chinchorro mum- mies, which can be radiocarbon dated and seriated. represent a better chronological in- strument. Moreover, fishing tool kits may vary according to local subsistence strategies, but a given mortuary treatment is indepen- dent of subsistence. Hence in Chinchorro studies mortuary treatment represents a more powerful expression of group identity and ideology than do artifacts.

Quiani is also used as a synonym of the phase epitomized by the findings at the Qui- ani 7 site reported by Dauelsberg (1 974). Qui-

Years Vhle Bird Y&z UiLley Rivera Standen Llagostera Arriaza

B.C. 1919 1943 1976 1971 1W1 1W1 1992 1993



............. I


.............. mimi 7

Chinchorro Phase
Precerani c I11

.............. ..............


.............. ............................

Phase VI Chinchorro Late (2.5M)-1.000) Phase II (natural)

2.000 B.C.

Chi,,,-horro Chinchorro (MA)


mase I (Red) Chinchorro ("orro Site)


................................. Precertnic I I ..............

Cectus Fishhook Late Phase V Puiani
Culture (Guiani 11) Puimi (4,200-2.500) Caplex



B.C. CLassic ................................. (BLack)


4.000 Shell Fishhook Early Chi nchorro Carsraws

Culture (Wimi 0 Wimi I Caplex

............................................... ..............


precerrnic Initial

5.000 Phase I




6.000 (natural)




Figure 5. Various Chinchorro chronologies.

ani 7 (ca. 1500-1 300 B.C.) is much later than is known as Chinchorro (Santoro and Ulloa Bird's Quiani 11, and was not characterized 1985). by artificial mummification. Instead, the


bodies were buried isolated and lying on one side with flexed legs. Elaborate turbans, the Early preceramic Ecuadorian (Las Vegas) and first evidence of hair braiding, and evidence Peruvian (La Paloma) coastal sites (ca. 6000- of incipient horticulture were found associ- 2000 B.C.) have yielded bodies buried in ated with Quiani 7 people (Amaza 1988; flexed positions, lying on one side, without Dauelsberg 1974). evidence of artificial mummification (Quilter

All these Quiani-related terms represent 1989; Stothert 1988). These early sites are various excavations of middens and ceme- therefore not considered part of Chinchorro. teries from the general coastal area of the city The present archaeological evidence indiof Arica. In this paper "Quiani" is used to cates that the Chinchorros populated about identify the Quiani period of Dauelsberg, as 900 km of the Andean coast, from the north- it is used by most Arican scholars, and this ern frontier city of 110 in southern Peru to the use is recommended for two simple reasons. southern limit at Antofagasta. Chile (parallels First, local Arican archaeologists use "Quiani 17 and 24 south and meridians 70 to 7 1 west phase" for Quiani-7, which is culturally dis- longitude). However, the best representation tinct from the earlier Chinchorro Culture. and of the Chinchorro Culture, especially of cem- second, both of Bird's Quiani phases, and eteries containing artificial mummies, has Llagostera's Camarones Complex, are asso- been found in Chile between the cities of Ar- ciated with what today in Arican archaeology ica and Cobija (Figure 6). Most of the Chin-

sources led to the discovery and settlement ofthe Atacama coast. If highland hunters and the Chinchorro fishers were part of such a continuum, highland and coastal lithic tech- nologies should share some similarities, al- though the very different ecological settings must be taken into account.

No formal quantitative comparative sty- listic analyses of highland and lowland tech- nologies have yet been undertaken, but the earliest Arica site, Acha 2 (ca. 7020 B.C.), has lithic points (rhomboidal with wings and lan- ceolate) that suggest a connection with a high- land lithic tradition. Santoro and Chacama (1982) report similar types of rhomboidal points in the preceramic Arica highland sites ofpatapatane and Las Cuevas (ca. 7550-6000 B.C.). According to True and Crew (1980: 70-73), this type of rhomboidal point is also called "Tambillo," and is common in other early Andean sites such as those in the Salar de Atacama.

Acha 2 is likely to represent an early low- land-highland connection. The ocean and coastal resources furnished early hunters with access to year-round permanent and abun- dant food. Las Cuevas and Patapatane, for example (ca. 7550 B.C.), have yielded evi- dence of coastal shells (Chorornytilus sp.) and shark teeth (Santoro and Nuiiez 1987).

Could the Chinchorros have had a coastal rather than a highland origin? If the early Chinchorro settlers were already part of a maritime tradition coming from southern Peru to Arica, then the Chinchorro sites in southern Peru should be much earlier than those in Arica, but so far this has not been shown to be the case. The few Chinchorro- associated dates from 110 reported by Wise (1 99 1) are contemporaneous with those from northern Chile.

It is also possible that a coastal migration from south of Arica gave rise to the Chin- chorros, but obviously only if the area south of Arica was populated first. Llagostera (1 989) describes human occupation at Quebrada Las Conchas (Antofagasta, Figure 6) from 7730 to 7450 B.C. based on a fishing tradition, with a unique manufacture of geometric stone ar- tifacts but no evidence of Chinchorro mor- tuary practices. In Arica the earliest site that can be associated with the origin of Chin- chorro is Acha 2, a camp of 11 circular huts located 6 km inland in the Azapa Valley. The huts varied from 1 to 5 m in diameter and had a hearth in the center. One of the hearths yielded a 14C sample dated to 6950 B.C. (Mu- iioz and Chacama 1993:28), and a body bur- ied on one side with legs semiflexed, wrapped in a vegetal mat and camelid fur, was dated to 7020 B.C. Acha 2 is characterized by a maritime tool technology that includes sink- ers, cactus fishhooks, and harpoon heads, as well as a hunting tool kit of lanceolate and rhomboidal lithic points. In addition to the fishing gear and numerous shells, an intense maritime subsistence is indicated by the re- sults of trace-element analysis of the skeletal remains and the presence of auditory exos- tosis, a maritime-induced pathology.

The fact that the burial was wrapped in a shroud of vegetal mat fiber, probably col- lected at the swamps of the river delta, and camelid skin, makes the Acha people the first coastal-valley inhabitants and the best can- didates to date for the source of the Chin- chorro people. Recently, two more bodies buried in an extended position and wrapped in a vegetal fiber mat were found at Acha 3, about 500 m from Acha 2. They date to about 6000 B.C. (Calogero Santoro and Vivien Standen, personal communication 1993). Standen (personal communication 1993) also commented on the morphological resemblance of the facial features of the Acha 2 and Acha 3 individuals.

Origin of the Mummzjkation Practices

The origin of Chinchorro artificial mummi- fication is certainly puzzling and open to sev- eral interpretations. If the biological origin of Chinchorro can be traced to hunters and gatherers from the Amazon or the Arica high- lands, the question arises as to whether they practiced artificial mummification before moving down to the coast. The nomadic way of life of hunters and gatherers would make artificial mummification unlikely, and no highland cemeteries or mummies have been found to support the argument for a highland origin for the complex mortuary practices of the Chinchorros. Furthermore, contempo- raneous Amazon skeletal remains are rare, as they are in the Highland area, and the few found so far do not show evidence of artificial mummification (Standen, personal commu- nication 1990). The early preceramic coastal sites of Las Vegas in Ecuador and La Paloma in Peru have yielded bodies buried in a flexed position on one side, without evidence of ar- tificial mummification (Quilter 1989; Stoth- ert 1988). Las Chilcas in Peru, a ca. 3000

The origin of artificial mummification practices was probably multifactorial. A be- lief in an afterlife, high frequency of infant and adult mortality, natural disasters, trag- edies, and ecological changes may have in- tertwined to produce the Chinchorro prac- tice. Maintenance of the body as a sign of mourning, or as a spiritual link to supernat- ural forces, may have opened the way to con- tinuous worship of the dead and to artificial mummification. The extended duration of the practice demonstrates that it served as a pow- erful instrument of group identity and as a means for assuaging communal grief.

B.C. preceramic site near the city of Lima, has been associated with Chinchorro by Lla- gostera (1992) based on the extended posi- tions of the bodies. However, the association seems unlikely because by 3000 B.C. in Arica the Chinchorro were at their peak in the de- velopment of the more sophisticated tech- niques (the Black mummies), whereas at the Chilca site the bodies show no evidence of artificial mummification. In fact, the Chin- chorro mortuary evidence points to a local (Arica-Camarones) coastal development of artificial mummification. The question is, then, where did it begin?

Quebrada Las Conchas is the earliest coast- al site known in northern Chile, but it has not produced evidence of artificial Chin- chorro mummies. Other early sites with a maritime influence, such as Tiliviche (ca. 78 10-5900 B.C.; Nuiiez and Moraga 1977- 1978), about 40 km inland, likewise lack ev- idence of artificial mummification.

The body found at Acha (7020 B.C.) was naturally mummified (Arriaza et al. 1993). By about 5000 B.C. sites such as Camarones 14, neighboring Camarones 17, and Morro 1 show the first evidence of complex mummification. The radiocarbon dates of the mummies themselves demonstrate that the oldest complex mummification occurs in the Arica-Camarones area, from which it may have spread north and south (Figure 6).

Why and when did the Chinchorros de- velop artificial mummification? Perhaps the Chinchorros believed the preservation of the dead body was necessary ifthe individual was to travel and enter the afterlife successfully. In other cultures that practice artificial mum- mification, the soul cannot survive if the body is not preserved (Cockburn and Cockburn 1980). Another explanation may be based upon ecological determinism. The dry desert predisposed buried bodies to become natural mummies, and hence the Chinchorros must have observed naturally desiccated cadavers. This experience may have triggered a desire to manipulate cadavers to achieve even great- er preservation. Ecological disasters or trag- edies could also have played a role in the development of artificial mummification. For the original groups settling on the Atacama coast, natural catastrophes such as earthquakes or the El Niiio phenomenon could have caused many cataclysmic deaths and perplexing events requiring supernatural ex- planations. These events may have led to the development of special mortuary rituals and ancestor worship. Maintenance and painting of the deceased body, perhaps as a means of relieving grief while avoiding decay, could presumably have led to more complex mor- tuary practices.

Schiappacasse and Niemeyer (1984) sug- gest that artificial mummification started with the bodies of children, who were the only ones found to have been artificially mum- mified in the cemetery they studied at Ca- marones 14. Muiioz et al. (1993) found a sim- ilar pattern at Camarones 17. This hypothesis certainly fits Camarones 14 and 17 (both lo- cated about 100 km from Arica), although much later, at Morro 1 (Arica), adults of both sexes as well as children were artificially mummified and buried next to each other. At Camarones 14 and 17 naturally mummified adults and artificially mummified children were apparently buried together, but unfortunately only the children were radio- carbon dated at both sites. It is fundamental to date both natural mummies and children subjected to complex mummification who form part of a group burial. Contempora- neous dates would substantiate the sugges- tion that artificial mummification began with children. In Arica natural mummification both predated and postdated artificial mum- mification.

Mummification Techniques

The Chinchorro people had the basic ana- tomical knowledge for dissecting cadavers because their subsistence required manual skills for killing, butchering, skinning, dis- membering, and removing the desired parts of fish and sea mammals. Their varied mum- mification techniques, which correlate well with changes through time (Figures 1-4, 7, 8), can be basically grouped into three cate- gories: Natural, Complex, and Mud-Coated. I view Complex and Mud-Coated mummi- fication as two systems of artificial mum- mification. Among the Complex mummies three variations are observable: Black, Red, and Bandage mummies. The Black mum- mies were internally built up from an elab- orate skeletal framework supported by sticks and twigs (Figures 1, 2). In contrast, the Red mummies were stuffed without much disar- ticulation, and the Bandage mummies share some features of Black and Red mummies. Among the Mud-Coated ones, two types oc- cur: an elaborate one with evisceration, and a simpler uneviscerated one. A synthesis of the main types of Chinchorro mummies fol- lows (see Table 1).

Naturally Mummijied Bodies

This category comprises bodies naturally dried by the desert environment, without major human intervention to induce mum- mification. The bodies were wrapped in reed mats, camelid furs, or pelican skin, with the legs sometimes slightly flexed. They are often only skin and bones, but internal organs may be present. Lithic knives, shells, and fishing gear sometimes form part of the grave goods.

Complex Mummified Bodies

The Complex mummies can be considered the typical Chinchorro mummies. The Chin- chorros used several elaborate procedures to preserve the cadaver, which was treated in- ternally and externally. Although there are variations, most fit in the Black, Red, and Bandage mummy categories (Table 1). Because they are the most sophisticated of all artificial Chinchorro mummies, these Com- plex mummies appear separately in Figure 8 in order to highlight their development.

Black Mummies. An external black man- ganese paint is the key element that identifies these mummies, but the name does not re- flect the elaborate mummification process behind the black paint. As the most complex of all the mummified bodies, they can be con- sidered the classic type of Chinchorro mum- mies. The bodies were converted into elab- orate statues with an inner structure of bones, unbaked clay, and sticks and ropes for rein- forcement (Figures 1, 2). Adults and suba- dults of both sexes received the Black mum- my treatment.

To create a Black mummy, the mortician separated the trunk from the head, arms, and legs, and removed all organs and flesh. The head was scalped and the facial skin, includ- ing ears, was removed and preserved for later replacement on the body. The brain was ex- tracted through the foramen magnum or the skull was cut open. The trunk cavity was dried with hot ashes or glowing coals. The trunk was left articulated in adults and was disar- ticulated in subadults, a difference that prob- ably reflects the weaker ligaments in suba- dults, which could not withstand the manip- ulation required. Subadult Black mummies' trunks are often rectangular in shape, and include extra bones or sticks used to produce

Table 1. Basic Features of the Chinchorro Mummies by Type.

Striped     coated Mud
(Black &     (eviscer coated
Treatment Black Red) Red Bandage ated) (simple) Natural
Headband - ? X - ? X X
Nonhuman skin head cap X ? - X ? - -
Presence facial features X X? X X ? - X
Removal facial tissue X X X X X? - -
Black face slip (Mn) X X? X X X? - -
Embedded human skin X X? X - - - -
Ash paste modeling below              
facial skin X X? X - - - -
Cranium cut open X X? X? ? - - -
Cranium evisceration X ? X X - - -
Cranium filling X X X X? - - -
Skull tied closed X X? X? ? - - -
Mn skull cap painted red - ? X X ? - -
Short hair/scalp replaced X X? - - - - -
Human hair wig - - X X ? - -
Long hair (>20 cm) - - X X - - -
Mud layer head to toe - - - - X? X -
Body painted black (Mn) X X - - - - -
Body painted red (Fe) Sex organs visible Sex organs modeled Genital covering -X X X X X X - X X -X X --- ---- ---X? -X -X
External cord/skin joint              
wrappings - - X X - - -
Interlaced cords at fingers and toes - - - - - X X
Incisions/sutures Evisceration -X -X X X -X -X -- --
Trunk stuffing Trunk modeling X X X X X - X X X - -- --
Total skin removal X X -? X - - -
Slun replacement X - X? X - - -
Exterior patches sea-lion skin X - X - - - -
Partial bone defleshing Total bone defleshing Bone condyles abraded Internal joint wrapping -X X X -X X? X X --- -X? --? ---- ---- ----
Extremities modeled with              
ash paste/cord/mat Extremities stuffed misc. X - X - -X -- -- -- --
Stick spine splint X X X X - - -
Skeletal framework of sticks              
and reeds X X - X? - - -
Longitudinally inserted sticks for arms, legs and spine - - X - - - -
Twined vegetal shroud X X X ? - ? X
Total no. observations 28 24 27 18 5 4 6

X = presence of treatment X? = probable presence of treatment -= absence of treatment -? = probable absence of treatment ? = not enough evidence

extra rigidity. The fragility of bones and joints did not always allow maintenance of the orig- inal form.

After the bones of an individual were cleaned and dried, the skeleton was reassem- bled and secured in the following manner: Sticks approximately the length of the body were attached at the ankles, passed through the pelvis and chest, and joined at the neck to permit their insertion into the cranium through the foramen magnum. The sticks and bare bones of the extremities were then se- cured with fragments of mats and reed cords. Hands and feet, if disarticulated, were reas- sembled and fastened to the wrists and an- kles. The skull and trunk were filled with grass, ashes, soil, animal hair, or a mixture of these materials. The body was then completely modeled with a white-ash paste in which the morticians embedded the bones, sticks, and cords in an attempt to give the body its orig- inal form. Genitals were also modeled with the paste. The skin, or parts of it, was skill- fully placed over the paste, as is clearly visible in the head where facial skin and ears are present. The scalp with short black hair, probably the individual's own, was reattached and secured with pieces of sea-lion skin and ash paste. In a few cases the original skin appears as intact as if it had been rolled off along the extremities and then skillfully rolled back on again; in other mummies the skin occurs in patches or is completely ab- sent.

The final step in the process involved painting the body with manganese. On the face the manganese paste was thicker to per- mit the modeling of eyes, nose, and mouth. Variations in the facial mask include occa- sional presence of several layers, and in a few cases complete absence of facial paint. Ab- sence of paint may be the result of chipping, or may indicate that the mortician never completed the mummy. After the black painting, a breech cloth or a fringe skirt and some pieces of sea-lion skin were added to the body. The final mummy must have ap- proximated the individual's weight.

Black mummies were extraordinary man- ifestations of the Chinchorros' manual skills, artistic abilities, and devotion to their beliefs. Although the mummies were solid when they were created, today they are extremely frag- ile. The unbaked pastes crack and fall apart easily, and at times the skeleton is completely deprived of evidence of mummification. This observation is extremely important because bare bones may not be recognizable as orig- inally part of an elaborate artificial mummy.

Unique evidence of changes in Chinchorro Black mortuary tradition was recovered in 199 1 when the remains of three Chinchorro mummies were collected in Arica by Univ- ersidad de Tarapaci staff during expansion of a local lumber yard. All the mummies fit the classic Black mummy category, but one is particularly interesting because it has bands of dull yellow and red ocher on top of the outer black paint on the trunk and arms. A stick used in the construction of the striped mummy yielded a date of 2800+ 155 B.C. (Arriaza 1993). The mummy's features and date may mark the transition to the subse- quent "red stage."

Red Mummies. To produce these mum- mies the morticians sectioned the abdomen, groin, shoulders, and legs to permit removal of the organs and major muscles (Figures 1, 3). The body was decapitated and the brain extracted, and the cavities were subsequently dried with hot ashes or glowing coals, as ev- idenced by charred tissue. The head received a treatment similar to, but more elaborate than, that of a Black mummy.

A black human hair wig made of tufts tied together, sometimes with tresses up to 60 cm in length, was attached to the occipital region with a manganese paste, following the con- tours of the cranium. The final result resem- bles a black helmet. A white ash paste was placed over the defleshed facial bones and covered with the facial skin; the face was then painted and modeled with either black man- ganese paste or dark red ocher to produce the semblance of a mask. Sometimes the facial skin and white-ash paste were not used, and only the dark facial mask may be present. In the occipital area the "black paste helmet" that secured the wig was carefully painted red.

Arms and legs were apparently not sepa- rated from the trunk. In some instances, the skin of the extremities appears to have been rolled down like a sock and rolled back again after removal of muscles and placement of stuffing materials. In a few cases, the skin of the lower legs of some adult Red mummies appears to have been replaced as bandages.

The cavities were cleaned and dried, and major muscles removed. Sharpened sticks were slid underneath the skin of the legs, arms, and trunk to reinforce the body. The sticks were bound together at the neck and inserted into the foramen magnum to assist in reat- tachment of the head. Cord wrappings and ash or soil paste filled in and modeled the neck area and kept the head secure. The mor- ticians stuffed the body with a mixture of materials such as ashes, camelid hair, feath- ers, grass, animal and bird skin, and soil. Af- ter the body was stuffed, the incisions were sewn up with cactus needles and human hair or vegetal threads. Leather straps or cords were used to reinforce major joints.

The final procedure was to paint the body and "helmet" with red ocher, leaving the hair and the black facial mask unchanged. In some cases a leather loincloth was added to rein- force the trunk and waist area, either before or after the red painting. The mummification technique contrasts with that of the Black mummies, in which neither main incisions nor sutures have been observed, because the bodies were completely disarticulated. The red treatment was used for adults and suba- dults of both sexes. Each finished Red mum- my was wrapped in a vegetal mat shroud, or, infrequently, in a camelid fur.

Bandage Mummies. Mummies of this class, basically a variation of the Red mum- mies, are painted red and have human hair wigs and longitudinal sticks for reinforce- ment. At least one adult mummy from the Morro 1 site has a Bandage style, but on the legs only. This adult mummy corroborates the suggestion that the Bandage style is a vari- ation of the Red style. The children with bandages, however, have skin wrappings from neck to toes and show no evidence of inci- sions, as the typical Red adult mummies do (Figure 4).

Mud-Coated Mummies. This class was prepared by first smoking the cadavers or partially drying them with glowing coals. Mud about 1 to 2 cm thick was then applied to the entire body; when it hardened it formed a gray cementlike substance. The mud coat- ing consists of a protein binder such as blood from the deceased or from sea lions, or an- other animal product, plus sand, sometimes with bits of vegetal fiber that could have been intentional inclusions or a result of contact between the cadaver and a mat while the coating was being applied. The Mud-Coated mummies do not show evidence of the use of longitudinal sticks to reinforce the body. These mummies apparently were prepared where they were buried, because they appear "glued to the bottom of the grave pit.

Two types of Mud-Coated mummies have been found, one with evisceration and one without. Only one case has been found so far with evisceration of the trunk, subsequent ash filling, and application of the mud coat- ing. The mud-coat treatment was used for adults and subadults of both sexes.


Chinchorro burials are in graves about 50 cm deep. The dates and distribution of the mum- mies within a cemetery reflect extensive and diachronic occupation. In general, all Chin- chorro cemeteries contain different types of mummies (Figure 7) with a horizontal rather than vertical stratigraphy. In the Morro 1site, for example, the Black mummies were found at the base of a hill, whereas the more recent Natural ones were near the hilltop. The lack of stratigraphic layering of burials, together with the fact that the focus of previous studies was on artifacts that changed very little through time, has not allowed a clear under- standing of Chinchorro chronology.

As can be observed in Figure 5, Chinchorro has not only been referred to by several names in the past, but has also seen its time depth (1 98 I), who dated two Black mummies from Arica, subsequently reaffirmed the notion that Chinchorro cultural development centered around 3000 B.C. The studies of Allison et al. (1984) and Schiappacasse and Niemeyer (1984) extended Chinchorro origin to at least 5000 B.C. Recent studies of the Acha site, synthesized by Muiioz et al. (1993), have pushed Chinchorro cultural and biological origins even farther back to 7020 B.C.

Differences in chronology and terms pre- sented in Figure 5 result from the nature of the diagnostic elements used to study the

Figure 7. Pie chart illustrating the different types of

coastal populations, such as shell middens,

Chinchorro mummies found at the Morro 1 site.

tool technology, habitational sites, and more extended significantly. Uhle (1 9 19) thought recently funerary styles. All of the names (ex- the Chinchorros, whom he called "Arica Ab- cept Quiani 7) presented in Figure 5 should origines," lived around the beginning of the be considered part of Chinchorro Culture. As Christian era, but later Nuiiez (1 976) report- illustrated in Figures 5 and 8, Chinchorro can ed two radiocarbon dates from a mummy now be divided into five cultural stages: from Pisagua, which demonstrated that the Founder, Initial, Classic, Transitional, and Chinchorro lived about 3050 B.C. Vera Late. This sequence is based on 26 radiocar-



i I













Figure 8. Proposed Chinchorro chronological sequence.

bon dates for mummies from at least 1 1 sites (Table 2).

The chronology presented here emphasizes the Arica-Camarones area, because this re- gion has been more fully studied. Regional variations probably exist for the appearance, peak, and decline of mummification practic- es as a result of idiosyncratic variation. As Figure 8 shows, there were two periods in the Arica area when extended Natural mummies were present. The first, at the beginning of the Chinchorro Culture about 7020 B.C., lasted about 2,000 years. The dates for the naturally desiccated bodies come from the Acha 2 and Acha 3 sites (Muiioz et al. 1993; Aufderheide et al. 1993). The second period of extended Natural mummies lasted about 380 years, from 1880 to 1500 B.C. based on evidence from the Morro 1 and Camarones 14 sites. In Camarones 15, however, extend- ed bodies, naturally mummified but with a layer of mud on their faces, are found from as late as 11 10 B.C. (Table 2). In Arica the Quiani phase began about 1500 B.C., char- acterized by naturally mummified bodies buried in a semiflexed position with elaborate headdresses (Dauelsberg 1974).

In Arica the four types of artificial Chin- chorro mummies (Black, Red, Bandage, and Mud-Coated) cluster between the dates of the two stages of naturally mummified and ex- tended bodies. At the Morro 1 site, the oldest radiocarbon date, ca. 5860 B.C., corresponds to a Red mummy (MlTlCl), whereas the latest, ca. 1720 B.C., applies to a Mud-Coated mummy. The dates indicate that Chinchor- ro's artificial mummification practices endured about 4,140 years, from 5860 to 1720

B.C. Standen (1 99 1) claims, however, that the 5860 B.C date for the Morro 1 mummy is faulty (Table 2), and she has obtained a date for the mummy of 2570 B.C.

Schiappacasse and Niemeyer (1 984), using an old typology of Uhle's (1 9 19), describe the Camarones 14 mummies as having "Com- plex Preparation" and "reddish masks." In- fluenced by this description and by the early radiocarbon date of the Red mummy from Arica, I presented a chronology with two Red periods (Arriaza 1993). I considered the first period, thought to have endured 8 10 years (5860 to 5050 B.C.), questionable, whereas the second, with a 480-year span (2570 to 2090 B.C.), had a more solid basis (Morro 1 and Playa Miller 8 sites; Figure 6). In typo- logical terms the occurrence oftwo Red types, separated by about 3,000 years, was perplex- ing.

According to Silvia Quevedo (personal communication 1993), the description of Schiappacasse and Niemeyer (1984) was vague because the mummies were found in a highly deteriorated state. I recently had the opportunity to inspect the Camarones 14 mummies, and although they are very frag- mented, there is enough left to demonstrate that they do not fit the Red style, and must represent the beginning of the Black or a Black-like type. I believe now that the 5860

B.C. date for the Arica Red mummy is in- accurate. Standen's new date of 2570 B.C. makes sense because it lands nicely within the range of the other radiocarbon dates for the Red mummies, in sharp contrast to the 5860 B.C. date. Moreover, the 10 subsequent dates presented in Table 2 (excluding Ca- marones 14) all correspond to Black mum- mies. If Standen is correct, then the oldest anthropogenic Chinchorro mummies are those from Camarones 14 and not those from Morro 1. Therefore, excluding the Arica date of 5860 B.C., Chinchorro artificial mummi- fication practices lasted 3,330 years, from 5050 to 1720 B.C.

The Black mummy stage is found in only one period, with a minimum duration of 2,180 years (4980 to 2800 B.C.) and a max- imum of 2,250 years (5050 to 2800 B.C.), if the Camarones 14 data are considered pri- mordial evidence of Black mummies. The sites of Morro 1, Chinchorro, Camarones 17, and probably Pisagua Viejo (which I have not inspected) provide the best evidence of Black mummies. This wide distribution implies that populations were expanding and spreading the black style. The earliest date, 4980 B.C., for Black mummies with a solid typology comes from Camarones 17, whereas in the

city of Arica the earliest date is 4120 B.C. (Aufderheide et al. 1993). Based on the ra- diocarbon dates, and if the conflicting date for the Arica Red mummy is eliminated, Ca- marones 14 and 17 -which Schiappacasse (personal communication 1993) identifies as a single site-could mark the genesis of Chin- chorro artificial mummification practices. In sum, the Complex types (Black and Red) had a time span of 2,960 years, from 5050 to 2090


A radiocarbon date for a Mud-Coated mummy with evisceration is 2620 B.C., and the duration of this technique is unclear. The mummy represents a transition to simpler mortuary practices, and marks the decline of the Black Complex treatment and the ap- pearance of the Red and simple Mud-Coated types. A Mud-Coated mummy without evis- ceration has a radiocarbon date of 1720 B.C., and the duration of this mummy type is also unclear. It appears that about 2600 to 1700

B.C. the Chinchorros were breaking away from the previous mortuary traditions, as ev- idenced by the simultaneous presence of Red, Mud-Coated, and Natural mummies (Table 2, Figure 8). This presumably reflects changes in ideology and less social cohesion. The mud- mummy stage needs further studies to un- derstand what social transformations were taking place and why this style developed.

Social Interactions

The complexity of Chinchorro mummy pro- duction implies a well-established tradition, with transmission of the morticians' knowl- edge and beliefs from generation to genera- tion. It is probable that there were part-time specialists and apprentices; manual skills de- veloped after years of practice, and hence Chinchorro morticians may have started to learn at an early age by helping the old mas- ters with minor tasks such as the collection of grasses, sticks, pigments, or other mum- mifying materials. The Chinchorro people also carved small anthropomorphic wooden statuettes and made miniature clay figurines that resembled the mummies (Alvarez 1969; Martinez and Munizaga 196 1 ;True and Nu- iiez 197 1). The figurines may represent a type of portable art that the morticians could have camed as a teaching tool, or as a transport- able ancestor totem.

No association among sex, age, and type of mummification is in evidence except in the case of the completely bandaged mum- mies, which were all children. The mummification of both sexes, independent of age, speaks for an egalitarian society. The Chin- chorros were also a society that cared deeply for the stillborn and developing fetus because they received the same mummification treat- ment accorded children and adults.

The Chinchorro burial ceremonies must have had the dual purpose ofguiding the dead to their eternal destiny and cementing the group's social bonds. For the living, especial- ly for the youngest, it must have been a pow- erful experience for learning about group ob- ligations and traditions. Mummification was probably a key element in reaching eternity for the individual, as well as for the group, and it might have been the cornerstone of group cohesion in the Chinchorro people. The sophistication seen in the Complex mum- mies implies that the mummification process and rituals could have lasted for weeks or even months. A prolonged mortuary ritual therefore probably also played an important role in daily socioeconomic and spiritual life.

In Arica the existence of cemeteries (e.g., Chinchorro and Morro 1 sites) with similar types of Black mummies implies that various Chinchorro groups were living in different areas simultaneously. The slight variation in this mummy type noted both between and within cemeteries implies either the work of different specialists, or changes through time, or use of a variety of local products. For in- stance, there are variations in the number and position of the longitudinal sticks, the amount of manganese paste put on the face, the degree of emphasis on the facial features, and even the color of the facial paste. In Arica, in the case of the Complex mummies, the color of the facial paint varies from black to reddish, or paint can be completely missing. Also, in Pisagua Viejo and Patillos sites (Figure 6) green facial masks, the products either of soil rich in copper or of corrosion of thin orna- mental sheets of presumably native copper, have been reported (Bittmann and Munizaga 1976; Olmos and Sanhueza 1984).

It is my view that mortuary differences rep- resent slow evolutionary changes in ideology within the group between 5050 and 2800 B.C., but these changes appear to have accelerated thereafter with the appearance of the Red mummies. I hypothesize that the ideological innovations manifested in mortuary practic- es and mummification styles do not represent external cultural influences that suddenly broke Chinchorro biocultural continuity, but instead exemplify local shifts in their spiritual beliefs. Cultural continuity is indicated by the homogeneity of maritime tool technology through time.

The Complex mummies were bodies that could be moved, which contrast with the later Mud-Coated bodies that were fixed to the grave floor. This tremendous late shift in Chinchono mortuary practices and symbol- ism must have been a reflection of major transformations in their ideology and beliefs concerning the afterlife. Perhaps from 2600

B.C. onward a greater sense of belonging to the land was developing, which dictated that the body be rooted to the earth. The late uneviscerated Mud mummies also mark the decline of the Chinchorro artificial mummification practices. The dying out of the Mud-Coated types at Camarones 15 is ob- servable by 11 10 B.C., by which time only the face of the deceased was covered with mud (Rivera et al. 1974). These face masks, the last remnants of artificial mummification practices, survived an additional 400 years in Camarones.


The Chinchorros have been categorized as a semisedentary society. I argue, however, that maritime richness along with freshwater re- sources enticed the early coastal explorers to live in permanent camps and adopt a sed- entary coastal lifestyle. Although cemeteries are common, settlements along the coast are scarce; this may simply be the result of en- croachment of a modem city as in the case of Arica, and of the light materials employed in ancient architecture. It is assumed on the basis of cemetery size that the Chinchorros probably lived in small groups, and did not overpopulate the coast. If we suppose that the 1 1 Acha huts were contemporaneous and that each Acha family had one or two chil- dren, the resulting community size is 33 to 44 individuals.

The large shell middens studied by Bird (1943) indicate extensive use of the coast by 4220 B.C.; evidence of peopling of the coastal region also comes from the Quiani 9 site, dated to 4420 B.C. (Muiioz and Chacama 1982). Quiani 9 is characterized by semicir- cular huts on the slope of an Arica coastal hill. The huts, which were next to shell mid- dens, were built of posts with sea mammal skin for the roof. This site is both physically and chronologically close to the middens that Bird excavated in Quiani, and hence the two must be related. Quiani 9 is certainly a site where the Chinchorros once lived, and it fits perfectly with the Black mummy period. South of Arica, at the mouth ofthe Loa River, the site of Caleta Huelen 42 (Figure 6) had several semisubterranean circular huts with superimposed floors, which provide more ev- idence of permanent settlement. Occupation at this village is dated to 2830 and 1830 B.C. (Nuiiez 197 1; Zatlar 1987). Cactus fishhook technology and extended burials with clay masks place this site within the Chinchorro Culture. Circular huts were also found in Conanoxa (about 40 km inland from Ca- marones) dating to 1790 B.C. (Nuiiez 197 1 ; Schiappacasse and Niemeyer 1969), a time when Chinchorro artificial mummification was starting to decline.

Besides the settlements, there are many other factors that point to early coastal se- dentism, such as concentrated coastal cem- eteries and middens, abundance of fishing gear, prevalence of auditory exostosis that is associated with a maritime subsistence, di- etary analysis that shows a high percentage of maritime resource consumption, and pau- city of dental cavities. The evidence from Acha, about 7000 B.C., indicates that the Chinchorros were exploiting the coast year- round and not seasonally. Coastal middens from southern Peru and northern Chile attest to the new migrants' quick shift away from hunting and gathering land strategies, to fo- cus predominantly on hunting sea mammals, coastal birds, and fishing (Muiioz and Cha- cama 1993; Sandweiss et al. 1989).

Chinchorro sedentism and coastal subsis- tence is also reflected in their bones. Twenty- one percent (10/48) of the Chinchorros suf- fered from external auditory exostosis (Stan- den et al. 1984, 1985). This pathology is a consequence of chronic ear irritations, asso- ciated with diving, leading to bony outgrowths in the ear canal. External auditory exostoses were found to be mostly a male condition, which suggests that males were do- ing most of the underwater food gathering. Moreover, bone-chemical analysis reveals that 89 percent of the Chinchorros' diet came from maritime products, 5 percent from ter- restrial meat, and only 6 percent came from terrestrial plants (Aufderheide and Allison 1992). As further evidence of a maritime diet, 19 percent (4/2 1) of the late Chinchorros had evidence of a tapeworm parasite, Diphyllobothrium pacz&um egg infections, which were obtained from consumption of raw or poorly cooked fish and sea-lion meat (Reinhard and Aufderheide 1 990). Finally, consistent with a coastal diet, low in carbohydrates and high in abrasive materials, dental cavities among the Chinchorro were practically nonexistent.

The biological (auditory exostosis, etc.) and archaeological studies (maritime tool kits, etc.) confirm that the Chinchorros were ex- tremely successful in the exploitation of local maritime resources year-round. Long before agriculture was practiced in the Andes, the abundance of maritime food and freshwater resources led the Chinchorros to a rapid and early sedentism on the basis of a maritime specialization. The abundance of food resources and sedentism then allowed the Chinchorros time for developing and main- taining a legacy of complex mortuary prac- tices.


Previous studies saw Chinchorro as a punc- tual evolutionary phenomenon occurring about 3000 B.C., but today with the new ev- idence that has accumulated during the last 10 years the Chinchorro Culture is seen as older and more culturally complex than pre- viously reported. Chinchorro Culture started at least 7000 B.C. and died out with the be- ginning of the Quiani Phase (ca. 1500 B.C.), but south of Arica the Chinchorro burial practices extend to about 1 1 10 B.C.

The coastal, inland, and highland sites (e.g. Acha, Tiliviche, and Patapatane, respective- ly) indicate early procurement, consumption and adaptation to maritime subsistence. This implies the antiquity of the peopling of the Atacama coast must be even earlier than we thought and thus needs a reappraisal to un- derstand this adaptation. The antiquity is even greater if the calibrated radiocarbon dates are used. The calibrated date for Acha, for example, is 8020 B.C., exactly a thousand years older (Table 2).

Chinchorro ideological and biological ad- aptations produced a sedentary lifestyle, a maritime economy, and extremely complex mummification practices. Chinchorro mor- tuary behavior exemplifies the power of tra- dition, deeply rooted in peoples' minds, to serve useful purposes of group cohesion and survival. The study of the Chinchorro also reveals that complex mortuary practices should not be used as a synonym for politi- cally complex societies, or as an indicator of high technological achievements.

The widespread distribution along the coast, as well as the high density of early cem- eteries in northern Chile, suggests a contin- uous settlement of the coast and opens up questions about population density and re- gional interactions. Long coastal occupation, spanning at least seven millennia, is not re- stricted to a few sites in Chile. Moseley (1 992) presented evidence for a deeply rooted coast- a1 exploitation of the Peruvian coast. Besides the Chilean Chinchorro sites, there are non- Chinchorro coastal sites, along the Pacific coast in Las Vegas (Ecuador), and La Paloma (Peru), also demonstrating continuous occupations. These long occupations are a re- flection of propitious environments that pro- vided plenty of food, water, and basic needs for shelter. If these basic human needs were completely satisfied, then, there was no pres- sure to leave the coast and cemetery reuse is efficient and necessary since the oasis riverine environments of the coast restrict expansion without water-management technology. Chinchorro cemeteries do contain many mummies of different periods. Contrary to past suggestions, different types of Chin- chorro mummies found at one cemetery are not evidence of ranking, but rather of dia- chronic mortuary practices.

The Chinchorro people excelled in their early maritime adaptation to the desert, but it is their early art and science of intentionally preserving the cadavers that have made them unique in the world. Artificial mummifica- tion is considered an ideological adaptation because the mortuary rituals presumably de- veloped as a mechanism to deal with envi- ronmental uncertainties (e.g., Niiio phenom- enon, earthquakes) and the nature of life and death. It also likely maintained group cohe- sion through the millennia. Mummification and burial rituals probably satisfied spiritual needs, including that of respect to their tu- telary spirits and group solidarity.

The biological origin of the Chinchorro people is still unclear. In contrast, artificial mummification developed locally, emerging about 5000 B.C in the Arica-Camarones area, most likely in the Camarones gorge. As il- lustrated in Figure 8, there were two intervals for Natural mummies, one for Black, one for Red, and one for Mud-Coated mummies. Chinchorro mortuary practices reached at least two clear periods of sophistication, one about 5050 to 2800 years B.C. with the Black mummies and another about 2570 to 2090 years B.C. with the Red mummies. The Black mummies were not only the most complex mummies, but this Black tradition had the longest duration. They have been found in at least six different sites (Table 2) showing cul- tural continuity through time and space.

In sum, the main goal of this paper was to define Chinchorro contextually and chrono- logically. Future studies need to focus on test- ing the proposed Chinchorro stages to un- derstand possible mechanisms causing or leading to changes in Chinchorro mortuary behavior.

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Received May 25, 1993; accepted February 17, 1994.

Los Chinchorros representan una culrura de pescadores precercimicos que habltaban la costa sur del Per6 y el norte de Chile entre 10s atios 7020 a1 1110 A.C., J. su antigiiedad es mucho mcis grande de lo que se pensaba. Tradicio- nalmente, la seriacibn de 10s artefactos de pesca ha servido como un instrumento cronolbgico para la periodificacibn de Chinchorro; aquisugiero, en cambio, que el ancilisis de /as t6cnicas de momificacibn es un mPtodo alternative. El sisrer?za de momificacibn artifical de la cultura Chinchorro, el mbs antlguo del mundo, or~ginb hacia 5050 A.C., y fie abandonado hacia 1720 A.C. Por contraste con previas opiniones, sugiero que las sofisticadas tecnicas de mo- m~ficacibnde Chinchorro se originarian localmente, en el a'rea de Arica, especificamente en la Quebrada de Ca- marones. Los estilos de momificacibn negra, roja, con vendajes, con pcitina de burro, y natural representan cambios culturales diacrbnicos. La alta complej~dad mortuoria, junto con la alta concentracibn de cementerios costeros, la presencia de villorr~os, y la .fuerte subsistencia maritima estarian indicando que la Cultura Chinchorro fie una sociedad netamente maritima, con un elevado sedentarlsmo. Por lo tanto, la complejidad ideolbgica y la antigiiedad del poblamiento costero de esta regibn andina necesitan ser reavaluados.

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