Mummy at the Museo Universitario Charcas in Sucre, Bolivia

The Mummies of Sucre

This is a not-so-flattering portrait of what is affectionately named Momia 2, one of a six mummies on display in the anthropological section of the Museo Universitario Charcas in Sucre, Bolivia. She was 25 when she died, 1.46m (57in) tall and overweight. A coroner would have probably ruled her death as accidental.

As with most pre-Incan mummies in the Andes, the process that preserved enough information to determine all of that was not intentional. She, like most of her companions at the museum, was from the Mojocoya culture from nearby Zudanez province, a group that interred their dead in caves and rock shelters. There, conditions sometime allowed for natural mummification, the start of a process that eventually landed Momia 2 in a comfortable glass box in this sprawling 17th century mansion just a couple blocks south of Sucre’s central Plaza 25 de Mayo.

Charcas, operated by the University of Saint Francis Xavier, the second oldest institution of higher learning in the Americas, is actually four museums in one, housing the university’s anthropological, archaeological, colonial and contemporary art collections. Photography was not allowed in the art sections, so I’ll focus here on the archaeology, more specifically the five mummies I decided were wildly photogenic. But don’t skip the art galleries which includes this amazing bird’s-eye portrait of Potosi by Gaspar Miguel de Berrio and works of several notable contemporary locals.

So, how old are they?

[Update 14 Jan 2014]: Ignore the rant below; Dan and Brigid from the blog Sucre Life visited the museum today and report that the mummies date from 700 to 800 AD. Many thanks!

I don’t know, which forces me to open this with a mini-rant.

Oddly, no dates were provided in the descriptions accompanying the mummy’s glass enclosures. Only one time reference appeared anywhere; it was said that Momia 3, below, dated from 100 to 1200 AD. I thought they could do better than that.

The only person in that section of the museum, a security officer, was of no help. Neither was the web. In fact, searching for more information became a frustrating illustration of the deficiencies that still exist online, at least in relation to Bolivian archaeology. The university does have a website for the museum but a coding error makes sure that any pertinent information is kept from you. I’d write them to let them know but I couldn’t locate a contact link. [And a related aside: besides a few single-word references, I couldn’t find anything online that provided more insight into the Mojocoya culture, not through English or basic Spanish language searches. Any assistance will be greatly appreciated.]

OK, enough. Let’s become better acquainted with the rest of the mummies.

Meet Momia 1, a healthy woman who lived into her mid-50s before she died of natural causes. Also a Mojocoya, she was from Naunaca, about 210km northeast of Sucre.

By contrast, evidence suggests that Momia 3, below, suffered from severe malnutrition before she died between the ages of three and five.

sucre-mummy03

In the museum, two and three are displayed together. No, they were not related, but it’s a nice touch, no?

We continue with Momia 4 (below) another child, a boy who died between eight and 10. Signs of trauma suggest he died accidentally.

And finally, Momia 5, one that’s somewhat of a mystery. Just 10 months old at death, sex and cause of death remain uncertain.

sucre-mummy05-IMG_9434

 

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Museos Charcas
One block east of the Iglesia de la Merced at the corner of Dalence and Bolivar.
Mon-Fri 8:30-noon, 14:30-18:00; Sat 9:00-noon, 15:00-18:00. Admission 20 Bs (USD 2.89, EUR 2.19)

 

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