It’s being touted as the largest traveling exhibition of mummies ever assembled.
One hundred and fifty mummified humans, animals and burial artefacts from around the world are now on display in the United States.
But if Ancient Egypt is all that comes to mind when you think of mummies, than this exhibition asks you to think again.
“This is the story of a journey through some of the most fascinating but least known mummy collections in existence,” says a trailer for the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) in Tampa, Florida, which is currently housing the exhibition.
MOSI describes the exhibition as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see real mummies from South America, Europe, Asia and ancient Egypt.”
One of the stars of the show is an adult male mummy from Chile’s Atacama desert.
A 600-mile (966-km) plateau in the country’s arid north, the Atacama is wedged between the volcanic peaks of the Andes mountains range and the wild shores of the Pacific Ocean.
Known for being the driest place on earth, the absence of moisture in the Atacama desert makes it one of the world’s best astronomical and archaeological environments, preserving objects for millennia.
Despite the dominance that Egyptian pharaohs hold over mummies in popular culture, the Atacama is home to the oldest known mummies ever discovered.
Literally thousands of years before Tutankhamen was placed in a gilded sarcophagus, the Chinchorro people of the Atacama were preserving their dead among the desert sands for future lives, and future generations.
In fact, the oldest Chinchorro mummy ever found dates back to approximately 7020 B.C. In Egypt, the oldest mummy discovered thus far dates back to around 3000 B.C.
Not only are the Atacama mummies renowned for their antiquity, but also for their complexity; so artfully rendered are the Chinchorro mummies, and so much do they speak of a profound spirituality and worldview, that they have forced archeologists to reconsider many broadly accepted theories about ancient hunter-gatherer societies.
And whereas in other societies around the world only the elite were prepared for eternal life, the Chinchorro culture applied the technique to all members of their society, making them even more archaeologically significant, as those who could not fully contribute to the community – children, sick and elderly – were likewise preserved for posterity.
For more information on the exhibition, see the official website.