Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Multimedia: Mummy Playground Volume 55 Number 4, July/August 2002
by Colleen P. Popson and Amélie A. Walker

[image] At Puruchuco, Antonio Gamonal removes part of a mummy's mantle, revealing headdress feathers, a mark of high status. (© Ira Block) [LARGER IMAGE]

The recent find in Peru of more than 1,200 mummy bundles--each holding up to seven bodies and accompanied by food remains, pottery, animal skins, feathers, shells, false heads, and weapons in their many cloth layers--turned out to be a goldmine for the National Geographic Society's website, The online companion to the magazine's May cover story and the television special "Inca Mummies" truly takes advantage of the web's multimedia possibilities.

Narrated images in Macromedia Flash (requires a plug-in)--including a map of the site just south of Lima, the archaeologists at work, illustrations, and excellent shots of the mummies--tell the story of the excavation and salvage operation in the shantytown of Tupac Amaru. Zooming in and out of the images, viewers come eye-to-eye with 500-year-old mummies, while a reconstruction drawing of the earth below the town shows the pockets where mummy bundles were found.

Visitors to the website also can unwrap and explore a virtual version of the Cotton King. Named for the 300 pounds of raw cotton stuffed within its layers, it is the richest mummy bundle found at the site. The eight bundle layers are easy to navigate and include links to pop-up explanations of features like false heads (stuffed cloth pouches placed on top of some bundles to give them a more human appearance), the position of the body inside, and the significance of the many grave goods.

With all that virtual unwrapping, don't miss the link to the article abstract, in which archaeologist Guillermo Cock writes about how archaeologists and shantytown residents worked together during the excavation (see also "Squeezing the Squatters"). Your own opinion is sought on the "slum mummies" forum, where readers discuss the fine line between desecration and excavation.

While it is a beautifully done website--a virtual high-tech playground--there is no thread connecting the mummies to other aspects of Inca culture that would help those new to the Inca. A simple timeline of Inca civilization summarizing major cultural developments would have helped give the mummies some context.

Click here for ARCHAEOLOGY's list of multimedia reviews.

© 2002 by the Archaeological Institute of America