Universidad de Tarapacá academics are studying how the ancient Chinchorro mummified their dead. They lived in the area that is now the north of Atacama Desert. The process is of interest because it started long before the Egyptians began mummifications.
Physical anthropologist Bernardo Arriaza is leading research at Universidad de Tarapacá on the mummifying process of the ancient Chinchorro people, including effects of constant exposure to manganese.
The Chinchorro were marine hunter-gatherers inhabiting between 5,450 BCE and 890 BCE the north of what is now the Atacama Desert.
Chinchorro started mummifying their dead 7,000 years ago, some 2,000 years earlier than the Egyptians. They often color-coated the dead in black or red using manganese pigments.
Research involves examining archaeological and bioarchaeological collections from San Miguel de Azapa museum to quantify the level of bioaccumulated minerals in the tissues of mummies, along with the purity and toxicity of the manganese used.
Manganese is naturally present in many foods. The trace element also plays a role in blood clotting and hemostasis in conjunction with vitamin K. Manganese toxicity mainly affects the central nervous system and can cause tremors, spasms, and hearing loss, among other symptoms.
Chongyang Zhang is pursuing an Erasmus Mundus Joint Master’s program in journalism, media and globalisation. His interest lies in the relations among the United States, Latin America and China. He is currently doing an exchange semester at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.