About 30km outside Nasca and 7km down a sandy road (this means back tire squiggling underneath me….. not a very comfortable feeling) lies the isolated cemetery of Chauchilla. Open grave sites that contain mummified human remains of the Chauchilla people which are a thousand years old dot the landscape. This post is not for the faint hearted so please stop right here if the thought of ancient dead bodies and photographs of mummified remains is something you do not want to explore…….
This cemetery was used by the Chauchilla from about 200AD to 900AD. It was discovered in 1920 and unfortunately was extensively plundered by grave robbers. This plundering left human bones scattered across the landscape. As you walk around you can see bone fragments everywhere, the odd occasional femur (thigh bone), a jawbone here and there with a few teeth….I think you get the picture. A few years ago a law was passed to protect this site from looting so the mummies can rest in peace if you don’t count the overzealous tourists with cameras snapping (which most definitely included myself).
We really wouldn’t know much about these people if it wasn’t for this burial site. Due to the constant hot dry climate the remains have been extensively well preserved. It is thought that these people inhabited Nasca long before the Nasca culture that drew the mysterious lines.
The cemetery itself consist of grave sites that have been dug open. As you walk around you can see other areas that are probably also tombs that have not been opened to the public. There are primitive reed roofs to protect the mummies in the open sites from the sunlight. In each grave there are a number of bodies.
The bodies are so well preserved one can still see the skin and muscle in the exposed areas. It is believed that the length of hair of the mummies was an indication of royalty. Some of the ponytails can wrap around the mummified bodies.
They were buried in the fetal position and were wrapped by in cloths and covered in a resin. Lots of pottery and other ornaments were buried with them for the afterlife. Family members would also come and make offerings to the mummies long after they had left this world.
It was an eerie feeling walking around in the middle of the desert looking at these mummies all by ourselves. I don’t think I would have liked to be there at night….