Chinchorro mummies

Mummies Becoming Black Ooze: Global Warming Behind Chinchorro Mummy Degradation?

Chinchorro mummies are becoming black ooze, and unless scientists in Chile do something about the mass degradation of the 7,000 year old preserved ancient mummy population, they will be lost. Experts say corpses turning into black matter are due to rising humidity levels from global warming, according to a Fox News report.

A team from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, reported its findings after examining samples of rotting skin from the famed Chilean mummies. Officials from the University of Tarapacá’s archeological museum in the northern port city of Arica, where the preserved bodies are kept, discovered the encapsulated corpses were becoming black ooze a decade ago.

Until recently, the source behind the 120 mummies’ accelerated rotting was relatively unknown. Tests results show the presence of naturally-forming bacteria that populate human skin, and proliferate under ideal conditions. Professor emeritus of applied biology, Ralph Mitchell, examined the mummy population. He was among the first to notice how microbes were transforming skin layers, causing them to “go black and become gelatinous.” All test results point to one culprit: humidity.

Because the microfolora were not foreign invaders, scientists quickly learned they were “opportunist” bacteria that are dormant until a catalyst comes along. In this case, moisture levels rose and allowed the bacteria to increase. In turn, they preyed on the rotting skin of the ancient mummies, which resulted in them becoming blackened ooze.

The challenge now is to develop a means to save the rapidly decaying Chinchorro mummy residents. What’s odd about the situation is the region where they are housed. The museum is on a boundary with Peru and Chile near the Atacama Desert, known as the most arid region in the world. To illustrate, the air is so dry, it hasn’t rained in parts there in some 400 years.

Researchers blame global warming on the rising humidity and changing climate. Fog has been rolling into the area off the Pacific Ocean. This amounts to increased levels of moisture in the region, which results in higher breakdown and a process where the mummies simply become black oozing matter.

The deceased are part of a royal lineage, but more importantly, they are “ordinary people,” Mitchell said. Therefore, there is a sense of urgency to ward off the impact of climate change despite the mummies under threat of becoming black ooze.

[Photo by: Suhaimi Abdullah / Stringer / Getty Images]