An ancient past

Encountering Chile's archaeological treasures

Chile has some remarkable links to its ancient past, such as the giant moai statues of Easter Island and the oldest known mummies in the world, found in the Atacama Desert.

Thursday, July 28, 2011  

The Chinchorro people were a fishing society who inhabited the coastal regions of the Atacama Desert in Chile's north around 5000BC. As far as we know, they were one of the first community to mummify their dead. The Chinchorro mummies date back as far as 9000 years, while the oldest Egyptian mummies are only around 4000 years old.

Today, the ancient Chinchorro mummies are on display in the San Miguel de Azapa Archaeological and Anthropological Museum, about 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) northeast of Arica. The museum has over 20,000 artifacts, including items from other societies that existed around the same time as the Chinchorro people.

Also in the country's north, the town of San Pedro de Atacama contains some noteworthy attractions for people interested in ancient cultures. A case in point is the Gustave Le Paige Museum, named after a Belgian priest and archaeologist who dedicated his life to collecting and classifying the archaeological remains of the desert region. The museum has a wide range of valuable objects including pottery and utensils used by indigenous Shamans.

About 2 miles from San Pedro de Atacama is a twelfth century stone fort perched above a hill called Pukará de Quitor. The pre-Inca site provides a rare insight into Chile's distant past.

The Easter Island Giants

Chile's other big archaeological attraction is the collection of gigantic stone statues on Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, known as moais. Each of the massive statues weighs close to ten tonnes and there are almost 600 spread across the island.

The significance of the moais to the island's indigenous inhabitants and the methods used to construct them continue to puzzle archaeologists, although a number of theories have been put forward.