Chinchorro Culture: Pioneers of the Coast of the Atacama Desert

  • Bernardo T. Arriaza
  • Vivien G. Standen
  • Vicki Cassman
  • Calogero M. Santoro

The Atacama Desert is an inhospitable region with few fresh water resources. Therefore it is remarkable that people settled in this area 10,000–11,000 years ago and quickly became highly skilled fisher folk. Reliance on marine resources allowed them not only to endure the harsh conditions of the desert, but also to adopt a sedentary way of life. It is even more intriguing that about 7,000 years ago some of these groups, those we call the Chinchorros, began to mummify their dead in a sophisticated and evocative manner — an intriguing mortuary practice that persisted for nearly four thousand years.

The Chinchorros were the earliest preceramic fisher-hunter-gatherer people to inhabit the Atacama Desert shore. They are named after a beach in Arica, which yielded hundreds of mummies in the early 1900s with the discoveries of Max Uhle. Chinchorro archeology has come a long way since Uhle’s initial work. Early studies focused on chronology, but we are now focusing on evolutionary reconstruction, human diseases, population genetics, diet, and the social meaning of Chinchorro mortuary practices. In this chapter, we present the culture history of the circumstances and events that allowed for the early settlement of the Atacama coast and we explain the unique Chinchorro mummification practices.


Marine Resource Black Mummy Grave Good Fresh Water Resource Shell Midden 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bernardo T. Arriaza
    • 1
  • Vivien G. Standen
    • 1
  • Vicki Cassman
    • 1
  • Calogero M. Santoro
    • 1
  1. 1.Departamento de AntropologíaUniversidad de Tarapacá, AricaChile

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