Chile is no stranger to important archaeological finds, but its most recent came from an unexpecting group of amateurs.
Students exploring the Moro de Arica in Northern Chile as part of an archaeology workshop uncovered far more than they were expecting when they managed to dig up a 7,000 year old mummy last month.
The relic is believed to come from the Chinchorro culture whose mummies are among the oldest in the world, more than 2,000 years older than those found in Egypt. Several previous finds in the area revealed similar remains, some of which are currently housed at Santiago’s museum of Pre-Columbian art. These newly discovered remains were found along a section of the El Laucho beach, on the slopes of the Moro de Arica.
“It is incredible that where one lives, there are bodies that are thousands of years old lying underneath,” Mijael Flores, one of the students who discovered the mummy, told press. “This workshop is fun and at the same time you can learn a lot.”
Once the students realized what they had uncovered, Officials from the Chilean National Heritage Office were called in to take over the dig. Many believe the recent 8.2 earthquake that struck the area has shifted the ground and brought more ancient relics closer to the surface.
Hans Neira, a teacher at the Escuela América de Arica where the students were from, led the trip. While the motivation behind the program was to help at-risk-youth better interact with the cultural heritage in their city, he hopes the unexpected discovery will lead to increased protection of the area and the treasures it holds.
“This is a wake-up call about to the fact that this place must be universally honored because of what it represents, with the understanding that this is a great pre-colonial cemetery that extends to the south of this sector,” Neira said.
The Chinchorro culture lived in what is now southern Peru and northern Chile from around 7,000 BC to 1,000 BC. The name Chinchorro roughly means “fishing boat,” as the people lived primarily off seafood from the coast as well as some hunting and gathering. To date, over 200 Chinchorro mummies have been recovered from 10 different archaeological sites, with this new discovery adding to the list.