Monday, 3 November 2008

Mummy Found With Strange Artifacts Tattoo

July 17, 2008—Seen with metal plates on his eyes—signs of status—this male mummy found in the ancient Peruvian town of Rontoy was unwrapped in June 2008. He had been disemboweled and placed in layers of cotton and woven textiles to aid his preservation.

The metal and red paint on the thirtysomething's face indicate elite status, and the presence of elites in Rontoy suggests the mysterious Chancay held a tighter grip over the Huaura River valley region than previously believed, experts said. The Chancay rose to power around A.D. 1000 and were conquered by the Inca in 1476, though the Chancay elites likely continued to rule as Inca deputies.

A long, thin black tattoo follows the angle of the mummy's knee joint. Tattoos are generally found on elite people, according to Kit Nelson, an anthropologist at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, who discovered and unbundled the mummy.

X-rays of the mummy reveal no broken bones, and a visual inspection found no lethal lacerations. He may have died from an infection, though official confirmation is pending.

The mummy was wrapped in layers of finely-woven textiles and a gauzy material. Offerings were embedded throughout the layers. In this layer close to the body, for example, lone balls of cotton were on either side—one white, the other brown. Nelson called them "strange things we never expected."

Other offerings such as abundant corn, a necklace of silver metal beads, and a wooden figurine are thought to be more signs of the individual's high rank.

The mummy, nicknamed "Kiko Rontoy," was buried with metal plates over his eyes and one in his mouth, shown here. The plates are hand-pounded pieces of copper and silver.

His face was covered in red paint made of mercury sulfide that is commonly associated with the burials of high-ranking individuals. Peruvian archaeologist Guillermo Cock said the paint and metal are indications of the mummy's status. "That individual is somebody from the upper class," he said.

When the researchers exposed the mummy's right arm and hand—note the fingernails—they found he clutched an empty woolen bag, which is partially visible here. The mummy also held two loops of yarn.

The dirty-looking flecks around the mummy are offerings of corn kernels. Corn, Cock noted, was a key food and ingredient in alcohol. "Chicha was really the only alcoholic beverage that they had—[corn] is a very valuable resource," he said.

Nelson, seen here in blue, discovered the mummy in a specially built, brick-lined tomb dug into the floor of a room within an adobe compound. A pottery specialist, Nelson was looking for ceramic remains. "We landed right on top of the mummy bundle," she said.

He lay on a bed of corn and was positioned below three empty niches (not visible) that are commonly associated with sacred offerings. No other prehistoric mummies were found here.

The mummy was found in the in Peru's ancient city of Rontoy, which sits where the Huaura River valley begins to fan out towards the ocean. When occupied by the Chancay, Rontoy was the hub of a thriving agricultural community.

Cotton fields likely surrounded the town, Nelson said. The size of Rontoy during its heyday, however, is unknown, as the researchers are uncertain how many structures have since been destroyed by today's fast-expanding sugarcane industry.

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