A preserved rope-bound mummy, estimated to be at least 800 years old, has been discovered in an underground tomb by archaeologists on Peru’s central coast. The mummified remains, which are in excellent condition, were found at the Cajamarquilla archaeological site about 15 miles (24 kilometers) inland from Lima. The rope-bound mummy was from the culture that developed between the coast and mountains of Peru, according to archaeologist Pieter Van Dalen Luna from the State University of San Marcos, as reported in the Guardian. The mummy is likely from the Chaclla culture, which developed in the high Andes around Lima between 1200 and 800 years ago.
“The main characteristic of the mummy is that the whole body was tied up by ropes and with the hands covering the face, which would be part of the local funeral pattern…. Radiocarbon dating will give a more precise chronology,” said archaeologist Pieter Van Dalen Luna, from the State University of San Marcos, Peru ( UNMSM) to Reuters. He added that the remains are believed to be of a person who lived in the high Andean region of the country, according to the Independent.
Archaeologist Pieter Van Dalen Luna, from the State University of San Marcos, Peru, on the right, with the rope-bound mummy just behind him. ( UNMSM)
The Rope-bound Mummy And The Mummies of Peru
Mummification was practiced by several indigenous cultures of the Andes region beginning as far back as 7000 years ago. The Chinchorro people, who lived in what is now Peru and Chile, were the world’s first practitioners of mummification, thousands of years before the Egyptians. Preserving the bodies of their loved ones allowed the living to retain a link with the dead.
What is fascinating is that Peruvian mummies were not just interred and left to get on with their afterlife. Some people kept mummies in their homes or brought them to festivals and they were often involved in ceremonies such as marriages, sowing, and harvesting. In some cultures, the people brought offerings of food or drink to their loved ones’ graves. Considered a link between the living and the gods, these mummies could also be taken from their resting place and “consulted” on important occasions.
Many different cultures lived in the Andean region and their treatment of the dead varied considerably, ranging from natural to assisted mummification. Preservation of the body could be achieved by desiccation or freeze-drying, processes helped by the natural climatic conditions in desert and mountainous areas found all over the Andean region. Bodies could also be treated and preserved using alcohol (from chicha maize beer). Early Andean cultures also used salt as a preservative and often removed the flesh and bodily fluids from the corpse prior to burial.
Mummies were typically placed in the fetal position and wrapped into bundles using several layers of textiles, bound with cords, and sometimes a head cloth was added. Important individuals were clothed and wrapped in high-quality fabrics and jewelry. The dead person’s possessions were interred along with their owner, sometimes along with the tools of their profession.
A closeup of the rope-bound mummy found at the Cajamarquilla archaeological site not far from Lima, Peru. ( UNMSM)
The Cajamarquilla Rope-bound Mummy
While the Cajamarquilla rope-bound mummy’s gender has not precisely been identified, it appears to be an adult male. It was found in an underground chamber tomb placed in the fetal position and bound with ropes that kept the mummy in a tight crouch for over 1,200 years. It was buried with offerings including ceramics, stone tools, and gourds containing vegetable remains.
The ancient site of Cajamarquilla, where the rope-bound mummy was discovered, was situated along a trade route linking the high Andes to urban settlements on the coast. It became an important center of commerce in the Late Intermediate Period (1000 – 1470), which was a time between empires in the Andes when many regional groups reorganized and gained power. Its prosperity was reflected in its large public buildings, boulevards, and squares.
Both the fetal position and rope-binding were funerary practices common among the late pre-Hispanic peoples of the high Andes. The mummy therefore shows that Cajamarquilla was inhabited not just by coastal peoples from the immediate area, but also by people of Andean origin from the mountains. Possibly, its importance as a trading center linking the coast to the mountains, resulted in people from the Andes settling there as well.
Peruvian mummies along with their grave goods have helped archaeologists greatly in extending their understanding of pre-Hispanic indigenous Andean cultures. Detailed examinations of the most recent find are sure to add to this understanding.
Top image: The 800-year-old Peruvian rope-bound mummy in the fetal position as it was found. Source: UNMSM
By Sahir Pandey