Buried in a bundle

The Paracas people predate the Incas, but even more unbelievable is what they left behind.

For ancient civilisations, giving the dead a proper burial was absolutely essential to ensure the deceased could pass into the next life with safety, dignity and even a bit of style. In ancient, pre-Inca Peru, funeral arrangements took on a bizarre fashion.

The Paracas people lived from around the 8th century BCE until the 3rd century CE. For at least some of this time, they buried their dead wrapped in layers of textiles woven from alpaca wool and cotton. Each piece was decorated with embroidered patterns of animals and humans, and dyed in many colours. The deceased sat within, usually north-facing, in a small basket.

In 1925, Julio Tello found more than 400 graves like this, just south of the city of Pisco in Peru. Each mummified corpse was encased in so many layers of textiles that, from the outside, they appeared like small, conical parcels or bundles. Two Paracas burial sites were identified in Peru, known as the Caverns and the Necropolis. The Caverns site is shaped like a wine glass, with a six-metre shaft leading down to the chamber where the burial bundles are gathered together.

DID YOU KNOW? some Paracas people elongated their skulls by binding them in infancy


Click on the image for a closer look

An ancient Assyrian funeral

During the same period but in ancient Turkey, burial pits were often furnished with turtles and terrapins to accompany the deceased. It’s thought the Ancient Assyrians believed these creatures could ward off evil spirits, and act as psychopomps – magical beings to guide the dead person’s soul to the underworld. Archaeologists in eastern Turkey recently found evidence of reptilian remains at a burial site dating back to 700-300 BCE, and suspect the unfortunate turtles were even served as funeral snacks first.

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