TechChile’s ancient mummies face climate change threat

Chile’s ancient mummies face climate change threat

Mummies from Chinchorro threatened by climate change
Mummies from Chinchorro threatened by climate change
Images source: © Getty Images | Insights
Karolina Modzelewska

8 July 2024 21:11

Climate change is a serious threat to our environment and ancient artefacts, including the world's oldest mummies from Chile. These mummies, older than those found in Egypt, hold valuable information about the Chinchorro culture.

The Chinchorro mummies are the oldest known mummified human remains, remnants of the Chinchorro culture. This partially nomadic, coastal hunter-gatherer culture existed between 5450 and 890 BC. Notably, the culture was distinguished by a specific burial ritual that included mummification. The WION service points out that the mummies from Chile are even older than the Egyptian mummies of the pharaohs and their ornate tombs.

The world's oldest mummies at risk

According to Bernardo Arriaza, a professor from the University of Tarapaca, the ancient Chinchorro people began mummifying their dead around 5000 years ago. In contrast, Egyptians started mummification much later, around 2600 BC. The Chilean mummies were discovered at the beginning of the 20th century. As reported by the Przystanek Nauka service, nearly 300 have been discovered to date, many of which have survived due to favourable environmental conditions near the sea and the desert.

The burial sites of the Chinchorro mummies were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List due to their immense archaeological value. However, these efforts might not be enough. The main concern is for the mummies still undiscovered beneath the sands of the Atacama Desert, which are threatened by climate change.

"If we have an increase in sea surface temperature, for example, along the entire coast of northern Chile, this will increase the atmospheric humidity," said Claudio LaTorre, a palaeo-ecologist from the Catholic University of Chile, quoted by WION. In his opinion, this may lead to decay in areas where it is currently not observed and result in the irreversible loss of ancient mummies and other precious artefacts. Archaeologists are concerned about this and strive to raise awareness of the impact of climate change on mummies and other monuments.

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