Monday, 21 November 2011

Mining for Mummies

This may be the last article to be added to the Verrill archives that refers to Peru so it is important to note that the author makes mention of Julio Tello in several of his other writings. Tello is known as ‘the father of Peruvian archeology’ and is mentioned in Verrill’s autobiography. Tello was world renown for his research on mummies.

There were two images with this newspaper article but they did not reproduce well so I have substituted with a modern image./drf

Mining For Mummies

by A. Hyatt Verrill

The Washington Post; Jul 13, 1930; researched by Alan Schenker, digitized by Doug Frizzle, Nov 2011.

Peru's Prehistoric Ruins and Burial Places Teem With Treasure for Archeologists as Well as Gold-Diggers.

EVER since the days of the Spanish conquest mining for mummies has been a steady and lucrative industry in Peru. Not that the mummies are desirable or valuable, but because the Incas and pre-Incas—ancient prehistoric peoples of Peru—interred ornaments, weapons, utensils and implements with their dead, and many of these articles were of gold or silver.

How many tens of thousands of mummies were disinterred by the Spaniards never will be known, for they were searching only for precious metals and stones and destroyed all else. Neither will it ever be known how much treasure they recovered, but the total amount must have been stupendous. According to the old law, one-fifth of all such treasure belonged to the Spanish crown— the king's quinta, as it was called —but unquestionably the Spanish mummy miners paid no more attention to the laws than do their descendants of today and rarely rendered an account of what they found. Yet, despite this, we know from old records in Peru that from 1566 to 1592 over $400,000 in gold and silver obtained from mummies was paid into the king's quinta in one town. In other words, the mummy miners of the vicinity admitted having been successful to the extent of over $2,000,000. Moreover, this was all obtained from one burial mound, the Huaca de Toledo, and only from a portion of the great mound at that. And everywhere throughout the country men were mining for mummies in every cemetery and ruin they could find.

Not every mummy or every grave, of course, contained gold or silver. In fact, not one out of 60 or more mummies is accompanied with precious metal, and countless thousands of mummies must have been destroyed during the early days. In this connection it is of interest to note that despite the fact that although the Incans—and doubtless the pre-Incans as well—possessed incredible numbers of precious stones, yet so far as is known no true gem ever has been found with a mummy in Peru. That the Incans had gems can not be doubted, for not only did the Spaniards bear testimony to this but many of the finest gems they took from the Peruvians were sent to Spain, so that even if the conquerors had mistaken semiprecious stones for true gems experts in Spain would have discovered the fact. Emeralds, rubies, diamonds, sapphires, topazes—all are described by the conquerors. Why then have none of these been found in the graves and tombs? Did the Dons make such a clean sweep that none was left? Hardly. The only solution would seem to be that for some unknown reason, perhaps superstition, gems were never buried but were handed down through generations, perhaps as sacred objects or talismans.

In addition to the countless mummies that have been dug up by the professional treasure-hunters who have been at work for the past 400 years, thousands of bodies have been disinterred by archeologists, curio-seekers and others and thousands more have been destroyed in the course of cultivating land and in carrying on private and public works. One would think that long ago the supply of mummies would have been exhausted. But so vast is the number of dead buried in Peru that despite all those that have been disinterred practically no impression has been made upon the general supply.

There is no more striking evidence of the immeasurable time that Peru must have been inhabited, and the incredible numbers of its ancient population, than the number of burial places. No one would venture even to estimate the number of mummies that were buried or that yet remain. From the borders of Ecuador to the Chilean boundary and beyond, and from the Pacific Coast to far beyond the Andes, there is scarcely a square mile that does not have its graves, its mounds, its cemeteries. Many of the necropolises cover hundreds of acres; many of the burial mounds are mountain-like; and in ancient ruined cities mummies by thousands fill the earth between and beneath the crumbling buildings and one-time streets.

Often the burial mounds appear more like natural hills than the work of humans. The Huaca Juliana, within the suburb of Miraflores, near Lima, is nearly half a mile in length, nearly one-fourth of a mile in width and rises to a height of more than 100 feet, and this is but one of dozens of equally large mounds in the vicinity. At Pachacamac, the ancient holy city, also close to Peru's capital, practically every available foot of earth is filled with relics of the dead. Here for many centuries digging has been carried on unceasingly. Much of the city appears like a battlefield exposed to shell fire.

Everywhere are pits, holes, trenches, craters, piles of sand and stone littered with human skulls and bones, wisps of human hair, shriveled hands and feet, broken, pottery, fragments of textiles, splintered wooden utensils, remains of gourds and baskets, and the cotton, rope and basket-work mummy-wrappings. In many spots the skulls cast aside by the diggers form veritable piles, and in other places one can not walk without trampling on human bones. The once magnificent Temple of Pachacamac, that covers a high artificial hill, and that in the Incan days contained the vast treasure that more than anything else lured Pizarro to Peru, has been specially exposed to desecration. Nothing is sacred to the professional mummy miner, and in their search for treasure these vandals have cut great breaches in the massive stone and adobe walls, have ruthlessly undermined the structure and have destroyed a large portion of what was once the most magnificent of prehistoric temples in Peru. And yet even at Pachacamac there are as many bodies remaining as have been disinterred. One scarcely can dig anywhere at Pachacamac without exposing one or more mummies, and the same is practically true of every ancient necropolis and city in Peru.

The new developments about Lima are surrounded by burial mounds and the homes of the suburbanites are erected over prehistoric graveyards. It is not unusual to see a modern residence with scattered skulls, bones, scalps and mummy wrapplings within a few yards of the front door, and in cultivating flower gardens the residents are as likely to turn up mummies as stones. Probably there is no other country on earth where the inhabitants—both natives and foreigners—so dwell amid countless dead, but no one appears to give it a thought. Perhaps they do not look upon the bodies and bones of men and women over a thousand years old in the same light as they would regard the remains of humans more recently dead.

Even to guess the number of graves in a small section of the burial places is impossible. Oftentimes the graves are in layers four, five or more deep, one ancient race having interred its dead above the remains of its predecessors. But it is certain that, on the coastal plains alone, millions of mummies still remain. Although vast numbers were buried in the loose desert sand and, more interred in bottle-shaped, stone-lined graves, probably twice as many were placed in immense burial mounds. These mounds testify at once to the dense prehistoric population of Peru and to the inhabitants' industry.

Although outwardly they appear like steep-sided hills of sand and loose stones, upon close examination one discovers that they are carefully fortified with adobe bricks. Even in the smaller mounds millions of these bricks were employed, and one's imagination is staggered at thought of the thousands of millions of bricks that must have been used in the construction of some of the really immense mounds. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of men must have been employed for years erecting these miniature mountains, and, while the bricks upon the surface have reverted to their original constituents of dry, mud and pebbles, those beneath are still in perfect condition, and in many places are mined for use in modern buildings.

When the Avenida Progreso, connecting Lima and Calao, was built it was cut through one end of one of these enormous mounds, and the steam shovels ruthlessly destroyed graves, mummies and archaeological treasures. For months the roadside was littered with fragments of bodies and wrappings and yet the portion thus demolished was not one five-hundredth of the entire mound.

Despite all this, despite the hundreds of thousands of specimens of textiles, pottery, mummies and other artifacts in the various museums of the world, the surface—scientifically speaking—has scarcely been scratched. We know really very little of the ancient Peruvian races. We are wholly ignorant of the culture of many ancient races who antedated the Incans, and there are countless unsolved puzzles regarding the Incans, the most recent of all Peruvian civilizations. Great stone cities exist that have never been studied nor excavated, there are vast cemeteries that no archaeologist has seen. The origin, the history, the chronology of the ancient Peruvians all remain shrouded in mystery.

No comments:

Blog Archive

Countries we have visited

About Me

My photo

As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.