The Settlement and Artificial Mummification of the Chinchorro Culture in the Arica and Parinacota Region represent the long-practiced mortuary techniques and associated beliefs of this Pre-Columbian civilization.
The Chinchorro were marine hunter-gatherers who lived in these coastal areas of the arid Atacama Desert from 7,400 BP to 2,840 BP. They are known for their advanced mummification practices, and the oldest known artificially mummified human bodies have been found here. The area illustrating the Chinchorro habitat also consists of settlements, cemeteries, and shell middens.
Community Perspective: This site has 3 components, and the only reviewer so far (Walter) visited them all. Colon 10 in Arica is the location where you can get the closest to the mummies. Also, he found the Atacama desert landscape of this area spectacular.
Map of Chinchorro CultureLoad map
The WHS consists of three components of which 2 are almost next to each other and in my opinion could be the same component.
I can recommend staying in the hotel "Le petit clos" opposite of the museum and site "Colón 10". In the museum over 40 remainings of the Chinchorro people are displayed. The skeletons were found in 2004 when a hotel was supposed to be constructed in this place. They are over 2000 years old a give some ideas on the burial practices and life of the Chinchorro people. Some skeletons have mussels and sea snails as presents next to their bones. Others have human hair and red colour on hair and bones. There is a very good 28 minute audio guide leading through the excavation. It was even available in (very good) German.
The hotel and also the museum are basically all part of the north front of the "Murro", the big hill next to the Pacific in Arica. It is inscribed as well as WHS because it is full of Chinchorro bones as it has been used as burial site by the culture. Surely the Colon 10 seems like a cemetery however from my point of view it's only part of the whole Morro north site which is an even bigger cemetery. Our host Daniel showed us that he can access parts of the UNESCO excavation side from his backyard. Currently no works are being done there. Just by walking here we found a lot of bones that are of human origin according to him. Earlier a house was standing there but now it was taken away for the archeology. That's also were the conflicts begin. Daniel showed us below a stone is his sandy garden a skull with human hair in a plastic bag. He said some weird people would pay up to 4.000 USD for a human skull. Also the UNESCO already rang on his door asking if there is bones in his garden. He denied and said only chicken and pig bones from his dog can be found. Basically by lying he tries to prevent his hotel to be torn down as well for the archeology. For his guests it's of course an exclusive way to discover the WHS. He mentioned that we are the first ones that are interested in the bones in his garden though. I would of course say that the remains were in better hands with the archeologists but right now the area is in private property. Also at the walkway up the Morro there is an area in which archeologists have left their orange flags obviously for their excavation work. Other than that the second component is difficult to visit.
The third component is the Camarones Valley where many Chinchorros have lived. It's about 100 km south of Arica. We drove through it with the bus from Iquique to Arica and it's an impressive valley. In the small village Cuyo one can see from the bus the statues built in memory of the Chinchorro mummies in the distance. I'm not sure what else can be discovered here.
In addition to the three components I can recommend to visit two other sites in and around Arica related to the Chinchorros and doable all in a single, long day. The museum in San Miguel Azapa is also maintained by the University in Arica and has displays on the human history in the region and displays of Chinchorro mummies as well again with good audioguides in many languages. The audioguide takes only 18 minutes. In addition there is an exhibition on the Aymará culture in the northern Chilean highlands. To get there take a shared taxi from the corner Patricio Lynch/ Chacubuco in Arica to the main road in San Miguel for 1.400 CLP. From there it's a short walk to the museum. The museums cost both 2.000 CLP entrance. The other site in the caves of Anzota at the coastline south of the city. We took an Uber there and hitchhiked back (there is only 1 street and many tourists). It's a beautiful place with a lot of wildlife like seagulls, pelicans, vultures and small reptiles. It's free and you have to wear a helmet due to potentially falling rocks. Chinchorros have lived and hunted in the sea here in front of the big caves formed by the ocean.
The Chinchorro mummies are advertised as oldest mummies in the world which might be correct. The demonstration of them in the museums is well done and there is a lot more to discover for scientists here. I find the whole topic interesting but not so appealing that's why I rated it quite low. However others might be more fascinated by the remains of this ancient culture.
Read more from Timonator here.
The property centers around the Chinchorro people who lived in the arid coastal area of the Atacama Desert (in northern Chile and southern Peru), from around 5000 BC to 1000 BC. They were marine hunters-gatherers and are known for having left behind the oldest know artificial mummification of bodies (predating the Egyptian mummies).
The Chinchoro mummified all the dead, including children and even miscarried fetuses.
Over the centuries, the mummification process complexified with dismembering and reassembling the bodies and the use of artificial clay face masks.
The mummies have become a landmarks in the area around Arica, with monumental statues figuring the mummies in many places, among them along the Highway 10, and many urban street art depicting them (statue in Desemboca top picture; street art on Morro de Arica bootm right picture)
I visited the three components of this property in June 2022. The two first are within Arica city limit, so are easy to visit. The third more of less necessitates a car to be reached.
- The northern face of the Morro de Arica: located on the slope of a hill above the city of Arica. Cemeteries where found and excavated. Nowadays, not much remains, except a look at the arid desert soil and an exceptional view over the city of Arica and the plains beyond.
- Colón 10: a small museum, next to the Morro de Arica, preserving in situ an old cemetery. It was discovered in 2004 while reconstructing a house on the hillside of Arica city. The mummies are covered with a glass floor on which you can step. Therefore, we can get a very close view of the mummies (picture bottom left). Entrance fee of $2000 (about 2 US$)
-100 km south of Arica is the Desembocadura de Camarones. It lies 10 km west of Highway 10. The road is paved all the way, but I don’t think there is any public transportation. It is a spectacular unspoilt natural location in an area of coastal cliffs, centered around the Camarones river mouth. It includes remains of settlements and cemeteries is a spectacular landscape. A monumental statue representing a mummy was constructed in 2010 next to some of the excavation site.
Even though not part of the property, I would strongly encourage a visit to the Anthropology Museum in San Miguel de Azapa, some 10 km inland from Arica (with bus connection). It helps better understand the lives of the Chichorro people, the way they lived and the mummification process. The museum shows the Chinchoro culture in all details and preserves many of the mummies, among them those recovered in Morro de Arica and Camarones. It costs $2000 (about 2 US$).
Altogether, it is worth the effort to get to this remote but magnificiant area of Northern Chile; the OUV is clear, especially with the in situ museum of Colón 10. The city of Arica is nice (cheap direct flight from Santiago) and the Atacama desert landscape of this area is spectacular.
2021 Advisory Body overruled
ICOMOS advised Referral
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