It’s a wrap.

Here’s a question for you: What was the earliest civilization to practice human mummification?

If you said “the Egyptians,” you’d be wrong by 1,500 years or so.

The answer? The Chinchorro people of Peru.

A current exhibition at New York City’s American Museum of Natural History, “Mummies” features an up-close look at rarely exhibited mummies as well as interactive touchable displays, rare artifacts, and cutting-edge imaging. The museum shows both Egyptian and Peruvian mummies that illustrate not only how specific mummification was carried out, but also how modern-day scientists can determine what’s beneath the bandages without disturbing the remains.

Mummification was practiced by the Chinchorro so that the living could remember, and remain connected with, the dead. Some kept mummies in their homes or took them to festivals. Others took offerings of food or drink to their loved ones’ graves.

The Chinchorro people were the world’s first known practitioners of mummification. Spread across the coastal regions of the Atacama Desert from southern Peru to northern Chile, they painted each mummy black or red and added a wig. As a final step, they fashioned a mask of soft clay and left it to dry. The masks rarely survived intact because unbaked clay is fragile.

What’s more, a Chinchorro male mummy bears the earliest tattoo found in the Americas. His mustache-like dotted tattoo above his upper lip dates from 2300 B.C.

Other Peruvian cultures also practiced mummification. The Paracas (800 B.C. to A.D. 100), entombed the dead with food, figurines, pottery, and other items, the smallest of which were placed inside a mummy’s wrappings. The Chancay people buried their mummified dead with vessels for chicha, beer made from corn. The vessels’ figures hold out small cups, as if to offer the dead a drink. The Chancay were known to replenish cups of chicha and dishes of food inside the tombs of their loved ones.

By all means, catch the exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History before it closes in January 2018, but for a firsthand look at Peru’s past (and present and future), allow R. Crusoe to plan a Custom Journey there for you. For information about visiting Peru, contact Jane Franklin at or call 888‑490-8019.

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