Skip to comments.Thousands of Inca Mummies Discovered
Posted on 04/17/2002 11:04:16 AM PDT by Dallas
Archaeologists say the discovery of thousands of Inca mummies could help solve some of the mysteries surrounding the ancient civilization.
The mummies unearthed in a shantytown near Lima, Peru, are "a perfect sample -- each social class, each group of age is represented," said researcher Guillermo Cock.
The find "enables us to look into an Inca community, to study their life, their health, their culture," Cock said at a news conference at the National Geographic Society, which funded his study.
Some 2,200 individuals have been found, some bundled together in small groups with their possessions.
The bundles have yielded amazing discoveries, said Cock, including well-preserved individuals, a copper mask, a war club, hand-painted textiles and pottery.
The bodies were not embalmed, he said, but were mummified by placing them in dry soil packed with textiles that helped them dry out more quickly.
"The process, although natural, was intentional," he said.
Most of the bodies were placed in the fetal position, the common way for an Inca burial. Fewer than a half-dozen were laid out, Cock said, an indication that those burials occurred after the Spanish conquest around 1535.
One of the bundles included some 300 pounds of raw cotton, the body of an Inca noble -- whom the scientists have called the Cotton King -- and a baby, as well as 70 other items, including food, pottery, animal skins and corn to make a fermented drink known as chicha.
"Mummy bundles are like time capsules from the Inca," said Johan Reinhard, explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society. "The huge number of mummies from one period of time provides an unparalleled opportunity for new information about the Incas."
The burials are thought to have occurred between 1480 and 1535, with the site serving as a central cemetery for the Inca, who ruled a powerful South American empire before being conquered by the Spanish.
More than 50,000 artifacts have been retrieved, with many of the individuals -- apparently elite members of Inca society -- still wearing the headdress feathers that marked their rank.
Cock said the quantity of burials represents an unprecedented opportunity to solve some of the mysteries of the Inca. He said only a few of the bundles have been completely unwrapped, a lengthy and detailed process that will take years to complete on all the bundles.
Previous information on the Inca culture has come from scatterings of burials, most of only a few individuals, not enough to allow many firm conclusions about Inca ways.
Cock and his team have worked for three years, trying to stay ahead of development in the area known to archaeologists as Puruchuco-Huaquerones. It is called Tupac Amaru by the 1,240 families living there. People began to settle there in 1989 after fleeing guerrilla activity in the Peruvian highlands.
Development of the shantytown is releasing thousands of gallons a day of liquids, including sewage, into the streets, where it can seep into the burials below, damaging mummies that have been well preserved for nearly 500 years.
A few mummy bundles were first discovered at Puruchuco in 1956, but the site was not explored. In 1985 some 70 test pits were excavated and 24 burials reported. Cock and his team of up to 18 specialists, mostly Peruvians, began work there in 1999, supported by National Geographic.
While there are thought to be hundreds of bodies remaining, Cock has no immediate plans for more digs in Puruchuco, as houses cover most of the untapped areas.
A National Geographic Society television special on the discovery will be broadcast on public television May 15.
On the Net:
National Geographic: http://www.nationalgeographic.com
Copyright © 2002, The Associated Press
Guillermo = William
Cock = well, you know . . .
I think this is a pseudonym for Clinton himself. He's into mummies, you know.
LOL, silly you! When I saw the title I was hoping for some older mummies but, they're be a lot learned from these. Thanks for the ping.
This timing suggests that these may have been the victims of the first wave of small pox that swept through the new world after the first europeans arrived.
How long does the small pox virus remain viable when buried like this?
I think they'd need to ascertain that bit of info real soon.
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