Man-made global warming has claimed another victim, according to Harvard University scientists. This time it’s a collection of mummified remains of human beings who have been dead for some 7,000 years.
The problem is occurring at an archaeological museum at the Universidad de Tarapacá in the northern corner of Chile, National Public Radio reports.
The school’s celebrated collection of 120 or so Chinchorro mummies is disintegrating into a black ooze.
Scientists with Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences say the source of the dark ooze is bacteria.
The concerned scientists say global warming may be causing the growth of the bacteria. Specifically, they assert, higher temperatures are leading to higher humidity, which creates the conditions for the mummy-eating germs to thrive.
“We knew the mummies were degrading but nobody understood why,” said one of the scientists, Ralph Mitchell, in a Harvard press release. “This kind of degradation has never been studied before. We wanted to answer two questions: what was causing it and what could we do to prevent further degradation?”
The scientists observed that modern methods to control indoor-climate can minimize the decomposition of the mummies in the university’s museum. But they worry about all the other, uncollected mummies out being dead in the very dry Atacama Desert.
“What about all of the artifacts out in the field?” Mitchell said in the press release. “How do you preserve them outside the museum? Is there a scientific answer to protect these important historic objects from the devastating effects of climate change?”
Time is running out, the scientists warn. (RELATED: US College Professor Demands Imprisonment For Climate-Change Deniers)
“In the last 10 years, the process has accelerated,” Universidad de Tarapacá archaeology professor Marcela Sepulveda told the Harvard researchers.
The Chinchorro people lived long ago in the area where Peru meets Chile. They developed a process of mummification a couple thousand years before the Egyptians did.
Interestingly, NPR has previously noted, climate change was likely what enabled the Chinchorros to develop their mummification process — back in the day, before it became a terrible thing caused by humans.
In a nutshell, the desert region where the Chinchorros lived was so dry that dead human beings mummified naturally, so embalming and adorning corpses was easy to do.