An evolution of creativity and ritual: The immortalizing craftmenship of the Chinchorro morticians

Russell Allen Hapke, University of Nevada, Las Vegas


The ancient Chinchorros are the oldest culture known to have developed elaborate artificial mummification practices for their deceased. This study tested a Chinchorro sedentary subsitence strategy proposed by Arriaza (1995a). This proposition conflicts with the present paradigms concerning prehistoric egalitarian societies. By analyzing the mummified remains of twenty-seven individuals, radiocarbon dates and ethnographic mortuarial data of ten other maritime cultures, this thesis builds a base for both supporting and opposing the sedentary proposition. It is suggested that the Chinchorro were sedentary during the black period (ca. 5050-3000 B.C.) but more mobile during the subsequent red and mud-coated periods. The style, technique, and complexity of the mummies indicate Chinchorro morticians played a central social and political role in shaping their society. It is speculated that the morticians were females during the black period based on correlations drawn from the mortuary remains reflecting patterns in ethnographic data; while males practiced the mortuary arts during the red period also based on similar correlations drawn from the materials and ethnographic data.