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South American mummies were victims of arsenic poisoning

Washington, July 6 (ANI): A new research has suggested that many of the ancient mummies from the South American Chinchorro culture were victims of arsenic poisoning.
The Chinchorro mummies are mummified remains of individuals from the South American Chinchorro culture found in what is now northern Chile and southern Peru.
They are the oldest examples of mummified human remains, dating to thousands of years before the Egyptian mummies.
Unlike mummies in later civilizations, most notably Egypt that flourished for 2,500 years beginning 3,000 BC, that spun around prestige, wealth and power, Chinchorro mummification was based on a democratic and humanistic view of the dead, and everyone was mummified.
According to Down to Earth magazine, archaeologist Bernardo Arriaza, who studies the Chinchorro at the University of Tarapaca in Arica, said that unlike the Egyptians who hid the dead, the Chilean community embraced them.
The child mummies even took their place besides their parents at the dinner table.
A few years ago, Arriaza launched a daring new theory: the Chinchorro were victims of arsenic poisoning.
“I was reading a Chilean newspaper that talked about pollution and it had a map of arsenic and lead pollution, and it said arsenic caused abortions. I jumped in my seat and said, That’s it,” Arriaza said.
Following the lead, Arriaza collected 46 hair samples from Chinchorro excavated from 10 sites in northern Chile.
Ten samples from the Camarones river valley had an average of 37.8 microgrammes per gramme-much higher than one to 10 microgramme of arsenic per gramme that indicates chronic toxicity according to World Health Organization (WHO) standards.
The sample from an infant’s mummy had a residue of 219 microgramme per gramme.
According to Arriaza, Chinchorros were a fishing society. They collected plants along river mouths and hunted both sea mammals and wild birds.
They made fishhooks out of shellfish, bone or cactus needles, spear throwers were used to hunt sea lions and wild camelids, while both lithic points and knives were manufactured using flint stones.
The Chinchorro lacked ceramic vessels, metal objects and woven textiles, but this was not a social handicap. Their simple yet efficient fishing technology allowed them to thrive along the Pacific coasts.
But, life was not without dangers.
In the 1960s, tests on water drawn by the city of Antofagasta in the Camarones river valley showed that it was laced with 860 microgrammes of arsenic per litre-86 times higher than the limits acceptable by WHO.
Arriaza believes this was the same case 7,000 years ago. Tests on the Chinchorro mummies strengthen the arsenic poisoning theory. (ANI)

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