WARNING: this blog post contains images of mummified remains
Rocío’s and my September 2016 visit to Ayapata District coincided with an exciting local story. One week earlier authorities had seized mummies from a family in the Pitumarka archaeological site. The one baby and four adult mummies, found when the family removed earth to build a home, were kept secret from authorities for four years. Upon seizure, the ancient mummies were placed in the new, almost empty, Taype Ccochahuma Municipality Civic Centre.
The Taype Ccochahuma Municipality Civic Centre (Municipalidad Centro Poblado) temporarily hosted the mummies
Incas and pre-Incas both mummified bodies in the Andes of today’s southern Peru. Pitumarka, also spelt Pitumarca, is a national heritage-listed pre-Incan settlement. Nearby Isla Qañuqota on Laguna Qañuqota has mummies preserved in situ. The region contains many ancient ruins and further mummies are likely to be lying undisturbed in the mountains.
People have lived in Taype’s spectacular landscape since pre-Incan times
We learnt about the seized mummies while in Ayapata for the Esquilaya Coffee Festival (although Rocío did hear a news story a week earlier). From Ayapata a friendly van driver dropped us off at the civic centre in Taype and picked us up on his return journey. The driver said Taype was nicknamed Taiwan since the names were similar; locals obviously hadn’t heard of the much closer name, Taipei.
The recently built municipality was almost empty, with the mummies held upstairs out of sight. Entry to the viewing area required payment of a fee: 10 soles for Peruvians and US$10 for non-Peruvians. The excited cashier and her cohorts didn’t know the value of US$10 so Rocío advised them “30 soles”. They didn’t know because they hadn’t sold such a ticket before – I was the first foreign visitor. Despite the sign above the mummies prohibiting photos (PROHIBIDO SACAR FOTO), I was allowed to take photos for 5 soles each.
The first receipt issued to a foreign visitor
The mummies were stored on a sheet of polystyrene foam in a locked, glass-fronted room. The exhibition consisted of four mummies and three extra skulls along with loose pieces of wrapping, bone and ceramics. The baby mummy was not visible. All four mummies had been wrapped in the foetal position when mummified. The mummies in such a contemporary stark and soulless setting seemed surreal.
The mummies and extra skulls on display behind glass in Taype
Two of the mummies close up
Within weeks our visit to Taype, the mummies were taken to Lima for conservation. Once conserved they would be returned to the Ayapata District and placed in a museum.