News of the WeekArchaeology

Arsenic and Old Mummies: Poison May Have Spurred First Mummies

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Science  29 May 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5931, pp. 1130
DOI: 10.1126/science.324_1130

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Archaeologists have long puzzled over the nearly 200 mummies created by the Chinchorro people that have been found in the Camarones River valley of northern Chile. At the Society for American Archaeology meetings last month, researchers presented new evidence for a provocative hypothesis about why the Chinchorro began the practice and why their morticians initially focused on young children. They showed that the Chinchorro were being poisoned by arsenic in their water, likely leading to a high rate of miscarriage and child mortality. Such deaths may have helped to spawn the practice of mummification.