WTF Fun Fact 13136 – Snow in the Desert

In 2011, Chile’s Atacama Desert in Chile got a rare snowfall. In fact, it received 32 inches of snow as the result of a very rare cold front from Antarctica. This wasn’t the only instance of snow in the desert, but it’s interesting and bizarre since the Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on Earth.

What caused snow in the desert?

According to the Washington Post (cited below), “The uniqueness of this event is that the Atacama Desert is a 600-mile-long plateau known to be one of, if not the driest and most sterile deserts on Earth. Because moisture is blocked from the east by the Andes mountains and from the west by the Chilean Coast Range, the average rainfall is just 0.04 per year and skies are almost always cloud-free.”

The 2011 snowfall occurred when an Antarctic cold front (the strongest in 30 years) broke through the region’s rain and snow shadow. It is wildly cold there (with an elevation of 10,000 feet), but it just doesn’t typically get moisture).

Other parts of Chile got a crippling 8 feet of snow, cutting off access to the area and stranding residents without supplies. The Washington Post quoted one regional governor as saying, “In four days we have had four months’ worth of snowfall.”

It’s so dry in this desert that Atacama’s weather stations had never even recorded rain, and “research suggests that some identifiable river beds have been dry for 120,000 years.”

What’s special about the Atacama Desert?

If you’ve heard of the Atacama desert, it might be related to any interest you have in NASA and space exploration. The desert is used to simulate Mars, and NASA uses it to test Mars mission instruments.

It’s also been a movie set because it simply doesn’t look like Earth. For example, it was used in Space Odyssey.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Rare snowfall on Earth’s driest desert in Chile” — Washington Post

WTF Fun Fact 13041 – Oldest Mummy Ever Found

You might be surprised to know that the oldest mummy ever found does not come from Egypt. The practice of mummification likely began in Chile.

The first mummies

The Chinchorro people settled in the bays of the Atacama Desert of present-day Chile around 7,000 BCE. All evidence points to these people developing a mummification technique around 5000 BCE. That’s two millennia before the the first ancient Egyptian mummies.

According to CNN (cited below), the oldest mummies ever found are currently kept the San Miguel de Azapa Archaeological Museum in the village of San Miguel de Azapa. The museum has 300 specimens but only displays around 10% of the collection to the public.

“It’s a very sacred collection because the majority of the items are related to the ceremony of death,” Mariela Santos, the museum curator and conservationist told CNN.

The first mummies

In Chile, the first mummies were babies and fetuses. And the area developed at least five separate mummification processes. However, 2 (black and red mummies) are the most common.

“Making the black mummies involved taking the dead person’s body completely apart, treating it and then reassembling it, skin and all. The red ones were created by making small incisions to remove internal organs and then drying the body cavity. Both were typically stuffed with sticks and reeds (to fill out the forms), adorned with wigs, and masked with clay over the faces — the former painted in manganese and the latter in ochre.”

Recognition for the site of the oldest mummy ever found

Chile’s Chinchorro sites were declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2021. This makes it more popular with tourists and gives the area more resources to preserve their mummies. It should also put Chile on the map as far as the history of mummification is concerned. However, an influx of tourists can also hurt local communities.

Athropologist Bernardo Arriaza has studied the Chinchorro mummies and is an advocate for the site getting the attention it deserves.

“What we’re trying to show is that we not only have the oldest evidence of intentional mummification, but it was done by pre-ceramic hunter-gatherer people in a pristine environment that remains today,” he told CNN.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Surprise! The world’s oldest mummies are not in Egypt” — CNN