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

WTF Fun Fact 12700 – Dr. “Mummy” Pettigrew

During England’s Victorian period, people were obsessed with ancient Egypt. But this fascination led them to plunder pyramids, disturb the dead, and desecrate sacred artifacts. Of course, they didn’t see it this way, they were just having a good time.

A surgeon and Egyptologist (back in the days when you could be both), Thomas Pettigrew, took advantage of this “Egyptomania” to aid in his research on mummies.

According to Tasha Dobbin-Bennett on behalf of Yale’s Peabody Museum:

“…During the spring and summer of 1833, Pettigrew conducted his research for this manuscript while leading three mummy “unwrapping” parties, where members of the British social elite would gather to observe the unwrapping of ancient Egyptian mummies. Although no longer under the employ of the Duke of Sussex, Pettigrew effectively parlayed his introduction to the social elite into patronage, riding on the wave of Egyptomania sweeping the British Isles. While the majority of these private parties were produced for entertainment value alone, Pettigrew utilized these events as another line of investigation complementing his education and access to extensive libraries. The material included within the manuscript testifies to his detailed and serious methodology, particularly in the chapters concerning the mummy as a drug, the embalming procedure and paraphernalia, and the comparison of classical authors with his research. Ten illustrated plates by the satirist George Cruikshank, the result of careful observation, complement the extensive text.”

Tomb-raiding was so common that Egyptian mummies could be procured by wealthy people for just about any purpose.

Apparently, mummy unwrapping parties sometimes involved the hosts giving away the objects people were buried with as party favors. – WTF fun facts

Source: “Mummy-Mania” – Yale Peabody Museum