The Oldest Mummies In The World Are Turning Into Black Slime

By | November 2, 2016

Chilean researchers are currently working on preservation of a collection of mummies, found in northern Chile, which have started turning into black slime due to exposure to rising humidity levels.

According to the researchers, the slime is most likely the result of colonies of bacteria that live in the mummified skin.


According to Harvard biologist Ralph Mitchell, “We knew the mummies were degrading but nobody understood why. This kind of degradation has never been studied before.”

It was tissue sample analysis from the mummies that identified presence of bacteria, which accelerated the degradation process at a very fast rate. However, these weren’t ancient bacteria, but the type that normally thrives on people’s skin.

“s soon as the right temperature and right moisture appeared, they started to use the skin as nutrients,” Mitchell reported for Live Science, and added that if local researchers don’t keep the Chinchorros mummies under the right temperature and humidity conditions, “the native microorganisms are going to chew these guys right up".

The mummies belong to a group of hunter-gatherers known as the Chinchorro people, who mummified their dead almost 2,000 years before the ancient Egyptians started mummifying their pharaohs. Some of the mummies date back to 5050 BC, making them the oldest mummies ever discovered in the world.


The uncovering of these mummies including adults, children, infants, and miscarried fetuses started as early as the 1900s. So far, more than 300 human mummies have been discovered along the coast of southern Peru and northern Chile.

The mummies were buried under the dry sands of the Atacama Desert for thousands of years. Some parts of the earth here haven’t been touched by rain in more than 400 years, which explains why the mummies have been so well-preserved.

They’ve been unearthed and transported to local research institutions for conservation during the past century.

Local representatives have applied to the United Nations’ cultural agency, UNESCO for official recognition of the mummies as world heritage.

Although the approval doesn’t mean that the mummies will be saved instantly, the researchers hope that greater attention from the international public will be more valuable for the problem they’re facing. They are hopeful that a solution will be found before these millennia-old mummies vanish into thin air.

H/T ScienceAlert