Mummies of the Chinchorro people, dating 7400 years to the past, are scheduled for DNA analysis and computerized tomography scans. The 15 selected mummies of mostly children and unborn babies, were found on the Pacific coast of South America, at the edge of the Atacama desert.
The Chinchorro were a hunting and fishing people who lived from 10000 to 3400 BC in the area between present-day Peru and Chile. They were among the first people in the world to mummify their dead, at least 2,000 years older than Egypt’s. Since 1903 about 180 specimen were discovered. The 15 Chinchorro mummies were put through a CT scanner at the Los Condes clinic in the Chilean capital in order 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. Skin and hair samples were taken to analyse the DNA in order to identify genetic links with the modern population, understand the diet, and the way of life of the Chinchorro.
The mummies were created first by removing the skin and muscles, thank through reconstruction of the body around the remaining skeleton with use of wood, plants and clay. The original skin was sewed back on adding a mouth, eyes and hair and finally a mask was placed over the face. The earliest mummies were unborn foetuses and newborns. All were found outdoors, placed near the beach. The Chinchorro did not build any other structures to house them, such as pyramids. As the CT scans progress new details about the mummies are revealed. The smallest involved mummy turned out not to be a mummy after all, as there was no bone structure inside – it was just a figurine, possibly a representation of an individual who could not be mummified, as the archaeologists suggest.