National Geographic : 1995 Mar
Its head encasedin mud, a childfrom late in the Chinchorroera was found on a stick frame used in life to carry it papoose style (opposite). Even fetuses were mummified (above, center), bearing eerie resemblance to carvings of the same period. pleased my eye was the occa sional defile, green with trees and grasses, cut by one of the valiant streams that tumble from the peaks of the Andes and somehow resist vaporization in the Atacama cooker before sur rendering to the Pacific. These streams make life pos sible, and wherever they meet the sea-Arica is such a place life can be easy. Thanks to the Chile's ChinchorroMummies cold Peru Current surging up along the Atacama coast, ocean and shore teem with life: ancho vies, corbina, and flounder; sea lions; crabs, mussels, clams; sea weeds and sea grasses; pelicans, gulls, and other birds. I cannot imagine a more invit ing niche for prehistoric settlers than these coastal oases. The Chinchorro people, the first humans known to occupy them, arrived at least 9,000 years ago. But from where? Most likely they started out in the Andean highlands and fol lowed the streams down to the coast. Calogero Santoro, an archaeologist at the University of Tarapaca, found shells and fish bones dating from 10,000 years ago in a rock shelter at 16,000 feet in the mountains east of Arica. So there must have been contact between coastal people and highlanders. Drier conditions at the end of the last ice age may have caused food shortages in the mountains. Hunters would have made for ays to the seashore; eventually the abundance of resources lured them there for good. By 7000 B.C. one group of Chinchorro, perhaps an extend ed family of about 30 people, had put down roots in Arica. Ivan Mufioz and Juan Cha cama, also of the University of Tarapaca, recently obtained almost identical carbon dates for the remains of a naturally mum mified individual-named Acha Man for the site - and a nearby cooking hearth. The hearth lay at the center of one of eleven circular stone foundations out lining the dwellings of this old est documented Chinchorro community. Such finds have changed our views about prehistoric settlers along the Pacific coast. They were not, as was previously believed, hunters and gatherers who migrated over great dis tances. Rather, they stayed put in permanent fishing villages. With food and fresh water always at hand, the Chinchorro had some time and energy to spare. They used it to care for their dead. Living in one place meant they could establish cemeteries and hold religious ceremonies surrounding death, and mummification became an enduring expression of their beliefs.