Over 170 mummies found in the 1200-year old Cotahuasi Valley tombs of Peru


Peru’s ruggedly scenic Cotahuasi Valley has some secrets of its own, as is evident from more than 171 mummies found in seven tombs perched atop the hills. These slightly ‘towering’ burial grounds surround a 1200-year old site known as Tenahaha, which largely consisted of open-air enclosures and storerooms that were tailored to mass scale feasting and tombs. In essence, the mostly autonomous small settlements in the Cotahuasi Valley used this expansive ceremonial space for mass burial activities – and as such the dead might have numbered in low thousands around the hilltops.

According to archaeologist Justin Jennings’ newly published book ‘Tenahaha and the Wari State: A View of the Middle Horizon from the Cotahuasi Valley‘, the corpses had their knees elevated along the level of the shoulders, while their arms were folded along the chest (much like Rascar Capac from the Herge’s ‘Seven Crystal Balls‘). This state of posture was then maintained by binding the bodies with ropes and then draping them in textiles – thus mummifying them in the ritualistic process. As for the nominal age of the dead, the mummies range from old men to neonate fetuses, with the small child remains being kept in jars.


Image Credit: Willy Yépez Álvarez.

The other interesting aspect of this mass burial site is the literal ‘shifting and mixing’ of the remains done intentionally by the people populating the area. In fact, in one of the tombs, the archaeologists came across almost 400 different parts (including teeth and hands) of human remains scattered in a disparate manner. Even some of burial goods were intentionally destroyed and shifted, while others were left as they were. As Jennings says in his book –

Though many individuals were broken apart, others were left intact. People were moved around the tombs, but they sometimes remained bunched together, and even earth or rocks were used to separate some groups and individuals.

Oddly enough, what may seem like vandalism at the first instance, was perhaps done to instill a sense of communal equality. To that end, the villages in the Cotahuasi Valley were mostly autonomous and thus ruled by different leaders. However, the people of these seemingly different ‘factions’ did meet up at Tenahaha – guided by the symbolic scope of communitas (a community of equals). In other words, the ceremonial site served as a collective ‘neutral’ location for feasting and burial rituals for these villagers, and as such the people wanted to preserve that sense of societal equality by even shifting and scattering their dead among the tombs.

Quite intriguingly, the large scale scope of tolerance in the Cotahuasi Valley was quite antithetical to the divisions and conflicts that had sparked up along the Peruvian coast-lands. From 9th century to 11th century, these fertile regions had seen massive agricultural productions, along with the unenviable consequences of population explosion and class struggles. And perhaps, such outside societal pressures had played their inverse part in molding and strengthening the unity of the Tenahaha people.


Image Credit: Alcides Gavilán Vargas.

Image Credit: Alcides Gavilán Vargas.

Image Credit: Willy Yépez Álvarez.

Image Credit: Willy Yépez Álvarez.

Via: Live Science

Featured Image Credit: Matthew Edwards.

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