Chauchilla Cemetery - History and Facts | History Hit

Chauchilla Cemetery

Vista Alegre, Ica, Peru

Chauchilla Cemetery is a fascinating ancient burial ground with Peru’s largest display of mummified bodies in their original graves.

Image Credit: Daniel Prudek / Shutterstock

About Chauchilla Cemetery

Chauchilla Cemetery is an ancient Nazca burial ground in the town of Nazca, Peru.

History of Chauchilla Cemetery

Chauchilla was a burial ground for the Nazca people, in use between the 2nd and 9th century AD. The conditions of the Peruvian desert, combined with Nazca burial practices, meant that despite the time elapsed, the bodies were in remarkably good condition, with many still having hair and skin attached. The Nazca painted the skin with resin, and used mud-brick lined tombs, which kept out damp and bacteria that would normally invade.

Over the centuries, the burial grounds were robbed and looted, and many of the bodies were spread haphazardly across the burial grounds or left in open graves. The incredibly well preserved Nazca corpses are still in the original cloth in which they were laid to rest. All of the corpses face east in accordance with the Nazca culture and they are all in the sitting position.

The tombs were formally rediscovered in the 1920s, and under the protection of the Peruvian government since 1997.

Chauchilla Cemetery today

The mummified bodies, along with pottery and textile fragments, still litter the ground and open graves today. Some find this kind of ‘dark tourism’ unnerving, so it’s worth spending a couple of minutes thinking how you feel about it before going. Do also remember that these are human remains and should be treated with according respect.

Look out for the mummified heads: these were specifically mummified, although the precise circumstances of this mummification is unclear as DNA testing suggests the heads weren’t those of the enemy, but of people from the Nazca community.

The cemetery is in the desert: bring plenty of water, suncream, a hat and ideally cover up – the wind can be fierce, as is the sun, so protect your skin as best you can. There’s minimal signage, so if you want to learn about the site in any depth, a guide is recommended: you can either go as part of a tour or hire your own privately. Many guides have some incredible stories and facts about the site, so it’s well worth doing.

If the site feels familiar, you may well have seen a close replica used in the film Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. 

Getting to Chauchilla Cemetery

The cemetery is about 30km south east of Nazca: the last few kilometres are down a dirt road, so come prepared. Many people come as part of a tour for ease of access and to benefit from a guide, but it’s possible to drive yourself or get a taxi. Buses/public transport are not really an option in this case.

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