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Archaeological sites of the Chinchorro culture

Date of Submission: 01/09/1998
Criteria: (iii)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Council of National Monuments
Coordinates: Arica: 18°28' S ; 70°19' W Antofagasta: 23°40' S ; 70°25' W Camarones River: 19°05' S ; 70°04' W
Ref.: 1188
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Towards the year 7000 B.C., at the north end of Chile, some groups of hunters from the Andes start to approach the coast and to make use of the resources offered by the Pacific Ocean, probably motivated by the climatic changes befallen after the last glaciations. In this period, called Archaic, the hunters began to exploit such coastal environments graduaily adapting their tools. Thus, the first fishing societies of the region were born, using a fishing technology based on the ~shell hook", which was carved out of the shell of the choro zapato -mytilus- the colors of which attract the attention of the hunter fishes. These groups populated, between 6.000 and 2.000 B.C., the desert-like pampa stretching out to the sea and covering from the south of Peru (110) to the region of Antofagasta in Chile. The best testimonies of this development are found at the mouth of the Camarones River. The Chinchorro groups kept on hunting in nearby places and exploiting its resources, but since their main nourishment came from the sea, they settled at the coast, iiving in houses built over circular hollows dig in the soil to which wind-shields were attached. Near their houses, they deposited their wastes, specially shells, and buried many of their dead, whose bodies they wished to preserved. Thus, 3000 years before Egypt, they developed a mummification technique, creating a tradition lasting about 4000 years and which has been named Chinchorro. The oldest mummification method consisted in skinning the body -at first only of children, then of people of all conditions-, and taking out the organs from the cavities, including the brain and the main muscles of the extremities. Then, the body was dried by means of hot coals and ashes, kept rigid with sticks tied with ropes made of plant fibers, and reconstructed filling the cavities with dirt, wool, feathers and piants. Arms and legs were remade with layers of clay, to finally put the skin as if it were a glove, sewing it with human hair or vegetable thread. They made a wig with the hair of the dead person, and reconstructed the face putting on them a mask made of white, black or red clay. The body was painted of red and black colors elaborated from iron and manganese oxide, respectively. Later on, the mummification technique was simplified, covering the body with a layer of a substance made of sand and organic material. Eventually, the process ended in the use of only the facial mask. Both this conception of death and the way of life associated to these groups of people - fishing-, faded with the course of time, probably due to the growing popularity of vegetable produces to which these people had access thanks to the first agricultural experiences in the inner valleys. The first traces of these groups of fishermen date back to the period immediateiy previous to the arrival of the Incas at the region. Afterwards, they are known by the name of Changos. This society, however, did not follow the mortuary traditions of their ancestors.