Two mummies pre-dating Incas found in Peru

Tuesday, February 24, 2004 Posted: 11:56 AM EST (1656 GMT)

Officials from the National Institute of Culture said the two mummies are at least 700 years old.

AREQUIPA, Peru (Reuters) -- Two of the oldest mummies ever found in Peru -- so well-preserved that one had an eye and internal organs intact -- went on display on Monday after being discovered by construction workers at a school.

Officials from the National Institute of Culture said the two mummies -- a young boy and a man in his mid-30s -- were at least 700 years old. They came from a culture that predated the Incas, who dominated a vast swathe of South America from Colombia to Chile until being toppled by Spanish conquerors in the 1530s.

"Two mummies have been found: a boy of about 5 and a farmer, about 35 years old, dating from between 1100 and 1300, the Chiribaya culture," Lucy Linares, an archeologist at the National Culture Institute told reporters. "What is striking is the level of conservation [of the mummies]."

Linares said the man had one eye open and "you can see his eyeball. It's perfectly preserved."

When the workers moved the body, they accidentally made a hole in his side, displaying his intestines, she added. Fat adhering to the skin was also extremely well preserved.

The mummies were found on February 12. They were put on display at the institute for 30 minutes on Monday. They will now be cleaned and studied by archeologists. Linares said the man "was one of the oldest [mummies] ever found."

The pair were found by workers digging at a state school in the coastal province of Islay, 79 miles south of Peru's second city, Arequipa.

One of the mummies, seen here, was so well-preserved that it still had an eye and internal organs intact, an archeologist said.
The clothing on the mummies and their style of burial identified them as being of the Chiribaya culture. The culture developed in the arid coastal stretch of northern Chile and southern Peru around 800 to 1350 A.D., over a distance of some 170 miles, and was notable for its highly decorative ceramics, according to historians.

The two bodies were buried separately, wrapped in red and blue alpaca cloth and tied with rope. They were placed in the fetal position at a depth of 10 feet, she added. Corn husks were found inside the funerary cloth.

"It looks like it was a natural death. It seems the place was a cemetery," Linares said. Archeologists searched but found no more bodies.

She said the man was probably a farmer because he had bags of seeds attached to his belt and a spade by his side. The boy was buried in a small tomb of stones.

Archeologists have uncovered thousands of mummies in Peru in recent years, mostly from the Inca culture five centuries ago, including about 2,000 unearthed from under a shantytown near the capital Lima in 2002.

One of Peru's oldest and most famous mummies is "Juanita the Ice Maiden," a girl who was preserved in ice on a mountaintop near Arequipa. She is believed to have been sacrificed some 500 years ago and was discovered in 1995.