Chile: Students find 7,000-year-old Chinchorro mummy

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Eat your hearts out, archaeologists: a group of students in northern Chile stumbled across one of the country’s famous Chinchorro mummies while participating in a school activity. Schoolchildren in northern Chile discovered a Chinchorro mummy while participating in a school archaeological workshop earlier this month.

The Chinchorro mummies, found in the Chilean desert, are the oldest artificial (meaning they were mummified intentionally by humans rather than by chance through natural processes) mummies ever discovered, with the earliest having deceased as early as 5,000 BC. Many of the mummies wear distinctive clay masks, giving them a haunting appearance and making them one of the icons of South American archaeology. The Chinchorro culture was semi-nomadic and lived in southern Peru and northern Chile.

EFE reports that the discovery was made when the children were cleaning garbage from an area where reports indicated mummies may have been buried. Upon finding the mummy, cultural authorities were notified, and the mummy will be analyzed by the Chilean National Monuments Council.

Teacher and workshop organizer Hans Neira told Chilean paper La Tercera that the workshop’s purpose was to expand students’ understanding of history and personal identity. “As we live in an area where three countries’ borders meet, it’s hard for students to identify with their roots,” Neira explained, “So by visiting archaeological [sites], they witness their own history in situ, from the first inhabitants of the zone to other periods of time. Now, the discovery of the mummy is exciting for us, because that’s the main goal of the workshop.”

AFP reports that Neira created the archaeology workshop, which primarily targets at-risk children, in March of this year.

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