Mummy Dressed in Fine Textiles

Date: 200 BCE
Owner: Art Resource
Source Type: Artifacts


The various Andean civilizations had mummified their deceased elites for thousands of years prior to the arrival of Europeans, and mummies were important to Incan family and state rituals well into the seventeenth century. Andean Indians believed in an afterlife in which the dead would continue to exist in much the same way they had during the tenure of their flesh. Thus, once embalmed, they were given food, company, and clothing to supply them with the necessities of life in the next world. Food offerings included cuts of meat and vegetables but sacrificial rituals (usually involving llamas) were conducted at the funeral and the perennial memorial ceremonies. Political elites, especially emperors, were provided with the servants, family, and friends that had attended them in life--these people would commit suicide or be killed before being buried on the ruler's land.

The mummies were also dressed in fine clothes and adorned with jewelry. For the Incas, it was customary to be enshrouded with colorful wool, dressed in a long sleeveless garment called a cusma, and have a cloth mantle as a headdress. The gold jewelry bedecking this man indicates that he was a person of significant status. Clothing also was crucial to the yearly ceremonies in which the dead were put on public display. Each November, the remains of ancestors would be removed from their tombs and dressed in the best finery his/her family could afford. The bones or mummy was placed in a seated position on a sedan chair, given a new shirt, and paraded about town to receive offerings of food, coca, and clothing. Such rituals were considered an active communion between the living and dead, a way in which Incas created a sense of history even after the Spanish conquest.

Reference: Ramirez, Susan Elizabeth. To Feed and Be Fed: The Cosmological Bases of Authority and Identity in the Andes. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005.

CITATION: Mummy adorned with gold jewelry, Paracas civilization, c. 200 BCE. Museo Nacional de Antropologia y Arqueologia, Lima, Peru. Giraudon/ Art Resource, NY. ART21243.