The Mummies of the Laguna de los Cóndores

The preservation of the human remains from the Laguna de los Cóndores is extraordinary. What could account for such preservation in an area of high rainfall and humidity? In spite of the rainy climate and the water, which often falls in sheets from the overhand protecting the chullpas, the dry ledge where the chullpas are located harbors and dry and cold microclimate that contributed to the preservation of the organic remains.

The Chachapoya appear not to have embalmed their dead; rather, they deliberately chose burial sites whose microclimates enhanced preservation. The evidence suggests that it was the Inca who introduced the Chachapoya to procedures such as embalming and evisceration.

Preliminary studies point to the skill of the Laguna de los Cóndores embalmers. The skin of the mummies has been treated and appears leathery, while unspun cotton placed under the cheeks, in the mouth and in the nostrils, preserved facial features. They controlled decomposition by emptying the abdominal cavity through the anus, sealing the orifice with a cloth plug. The bodies had been reduced to their minimum volume and weight: joints are strained to the point that the flexed position is almost unnatural. Finally, the bodies were wrapped in layers of cloth, creating a microclimate that promoted conservation.

 

From left to right: Mummy bundle wrapped in painted cloth; Stylized face embroidered on a mummy bundle; Mummy of an adult male (Adriana von Hagen)