A sight less often visited in Nasca is the Cemetery of Chauchilla, a truly groovy place about 25 km north of Nasca right in the desert. The cemetery was used by the Ica-Chincha, a civilization that lived in this region long before it was conquered by other cultures, the last one the Inca, who also used this cemetery. Scientists estimate that there might be 2000 graves, but only about ten were fully excavated and restored.
The Ica-Chincha mummified all of their dead and buried them in graves about 1.5 meters deep, either in single or in family tombs. The status of a person is clearly marked by the clothes the mummy is wearing and the offerings that are buried alongside. Those offerings are thought to be used by the dead person in the next life.
In the 1970s and 1980s, grave robbers caused irreparable damage by opening the tombs and stealing the most precious offerings and textiles, leaving the mummies strewn around the desert. Although these mummies were exposed to wind and sun for years, they are still in a good state, only their hair and their skulls are bleached.
The more important people wore their hair all the way down to their ankles, it is amazing how well preserved it is. The Ica-Chincha also had a tradition to cut a corpse’s head of. These heads were also preserved and carried around at religious ceremonies. To do so easily, a hole was put in the head, so a string could be fastened.
Only in the 1990s did archaeologists systematically start to research the cemetery. Now, the mummies are put back into the tombs, although only one mummy is in its original place, since only one tomb has been found untouched so far.
Apart from the mummies and tombs, we truly enjoyed the late afternoon in the desert: it is completely quiet and the setting sun gave the mountains a soft glow.
Sunset over the Nascan desert …
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