Friday, April 10, 2015

Hundreds of Ancient Mummies Discovered in Peru Ceremonial Site

""Archaeologists in Peru made a monumental discovery when they found dozens of tombs with up to 40 mummies in each at a 1,200-year-old ceremonial site in Cotahuasi Valley. So far 171 mummies have been discovered across seven tombs, but it is thought that there may be thousands more.
The finding was made at Tenahaha, a 4 hectare site in the Cotahuasi Valley, which was established during the height of the Wari Empire (500 – 1000 AD). Very little archaeological research has been undertaken in the region due to its sheer remoteness. The Cotahuasi Canyon, sitting at 3535 meters (11,600 feet) above sea level, is the deepest canyon in the world – about twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. A number of prehistoric cultures occupied the canyon and its eastern plateau from the earliest Paleoindians to the Incas (11,000 BC – 1532 AD).
In recent years, archaeological research and analysis has begun piecing together the importance of Tenahaha during a period of growth and expansion from the first state-level society in the Andes and increased interregional interactions in the Cotahuasi Valley. The site is composed of a ceremonial/domestic component concentrated into a 2 hectare area, and a second component is composed of clusters of tombs located on the hillocks surrounding the ceremonial area.
"The dead, likely numbering in the low thousands, towered over the living," wrote archaeologist Justin Jennings, in the newly published book Tenahaha and the Wari State: A View of the Middle Horizon from the Cotahuasi Valley.
According to Live Science, the mummies range in age from babies to adults and had been placed with their knees tucked up towards their shoulders with their arms folded across their chest. Like other burials discovered in Peru, the deceased were then tied with rope and wrapped in layers of textiles. The younger mummies, including babies and neonate fetuses, were buried in jars.

Examples of traditional ancient Peruvian burials. The knees are tucked towards the chest and the body is wrapped in textiles and rope. These mummies came from the Chauchilla ancient cemetery in the desert of Nazca Peru (Source: Dreamstime)
The mummies found at Tenahaha are not, however, as well preserved as those found at Chauchilla (shown above).

Broken Mummies

“The mummified remains were in poor shape due to damage from water and rodents,” reports Live Science. “Additionally, the researchers found some of the mummies were intentionally broken apart, their bones scattered and moved between the tombs. In one tomb the scientists found almost 400 isolated human remains, including teeth, hands and feet.”
"Though many individuals were broken apart, others were left intact," Jennings wrote in the book. "People were moved around the tombs, but they sometimes remained bunched together, and even earth or rocks were used to separate some groups and individuals." Some grave goods were smashed apart, while others were left intact, he said.
Researchers are not entirely sure why some mummies were broken apart and moved, while others were left in intact. However, the separation and movement of skeletal remains is a known practice to have taken place throughout the Andes.  In February this year, archaeologists investigating a religious complex in Bolivia discovered an ancient mortuary where human body parts were stripped of their flesh, cleaned, and transported, making them what archeologist Scott C. Smith called “portable ancestors”."" 

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