By Fernando Gimeno
Lima, Dec 10 (EFE).- Bound from head to toe by ropes and with hands covering the face, the so-called Cajamarquilla mummy had been hidden for roughly a thousand years until being recently discovered on the outskirts of Peru’s capital.
Like a real-life representation of Edvard Munch’s iconic painting “The Scream,” the grim sight is made even more chilling in this case by the corpse’s fetal position, a very common feature of pre-Columbian burials.
“It’s hard to determine why the hands are in that position,” Yomira Huaman, an archaeologist at Lima’s National University of San Marcos who has headed up the investigative work at the Cajamarquilla archaeological site along with her professor, project leader Pieter Van Dalen, acknowledged in remarks to Efe.
The hands-over-face pose calls to mind mummies of other civilizations of Ancient Peru like the Chachapoyas and Huari, a culture that dominated the Andes a millennium before the Incas and was the first great empire of South America.
Van Dalen said it is related to beliefs about a person’s afterlife transition.
“Within their cosmovision, it was thought that people at death embarked on a journey to the world of the dead,” the archaeologist said.
Little is known about the mummified individual except that he was probably a man of high social standing who lived between 800 and 1200 AD, was between 18 and 22 at the time of his death and was given a much more meticulously arranged burial than was typical for that region.
The individual’s skin remains virtually intact thanks to different ancient embalming techniques employed to prevent decay, including the use of several layers of cotton and cloth that were bound tightly with rope to ensure there was no empty space.
Van Dalen said the Huari were responsible for disseminating that high Andes funerary practice throughout what now is present-day Peru.
That mummified individual was buried in a funerary chamber as opposed to in one of the small sand silos found in that same complex, while different offerings also accompanied him such as ceramic bowls, spindles and obsidian fragments.
Indeed, the presence of that igneous rock indicates that the individual was from the upper elevations of the Andes and provide further confirmation that the adobe city of Cajamarquilla was home to between 10,000 and 20,000 people of different pre-Incan ethnic nationalities and was an important trading center located between the coast and the Andean highlands.
“That whole area was settled by both Chaclla and Ichma (cultures). It was a multi-ethnic center where diverse groups of populations lived together for commercial purposes,” Van Dalen said.
Huaman said for her part that the mummified burial itself may have been an offering to the gods aimed at mitigating the effects of a climatic event such the El Niño phenomenon, whose sudden torrential rains provoke flash floods on the Andes’ western desert-like slopes.
Due to Lima’s sprawling expansion, the Cajamarquilla archaeological site today is located on the capital’s outskirts and has been a largely neglected district whose historical and heritage value are only recognized when major archaeological discoveries are made.
“It was long abandoned, and everyone associated the archaeological site with a place of crime and drug addiction,” said Huaman, who lives near Cajamarquilla and had always dreamed of carrying out digs in that area. “But it’s being seen in a different light thanks to these finds.” EFE