The tradition of funerary bundles in the Central Andes

The tradition of bundle-type burials developed in the Paracas culture (ca. 800 to 200 AD) on the Peruvian South Coast and spread throughout the whole Central Andes (Tello 2009), as the testimonies of early colonial chroniclers relate (Cieza 1946 [1553]: 351-353, Poma 1962 [1615]: 206-211, Cobo 1964 [1635]: 163-165). One of these chroniclers, Bartolome de las Casas, the Spanish bishop who worked in Central America, left a description of bundle making. According to this author, the ritual was public and took place in a courtyard, in the center of which the cadaver was placed. During the ceremony, a choir recounted the deeds of the dead, accompanied by the “mournful” sound of flutes. Subsequent groups of mourners – some of them with stuffs in hands – approached the cadaver in turns, walking around it continuously, placing textiles on the body, crying and singing. Votive offerings of food and objects used by the person during life were made. The typical custom was to renew those offerings as the time from the burial progressed (van Dalen 2017). Some pieces of the baked meat were hung before the body, and the priests or sorcerers checked the way the colour of the meat was changing, auguring the fate of the dead in the afterlife. The mourning could take from five to ten days, depending on the rank of the deceased in life, then the finished bundle was buried in the underground tomb. To facilitate further offerings after the funeral, the mourners sometimes raised constructions above the tomb, on the ground (de las Casas 1892 [1550]: 118-124). The author had never been to the Central Andes, and this description was probably delivered to him by his friend, fray Domingo de Santo Tomas, who spent more than 30 years in the Viceroyalty of Peru, especially in the towns of the Chancay Valley (the antique territory of the Chancay culture). Pablo Josef de Arriaga (1968 [1621]), the famous extirpator of idolatry, testified that ancestors’ bodies, called “mallqui”, were revered by their descendants and relatives as divine beings. This ancestor cult included physical interaction with the dead, changing their clothes, cleaning the body and making offerings of food. In the early Colonial period, the term “mallqui” meant “a young plant to put in a soil” or “every fruit tree”, and generally referred to the activity of sowing and seeds (Holquin 2007 [1608]: 41). According to archaeologists, bundle-making was perceived as the transformation of the dead into a powerful ancestor who possessed generative power called camac or camaquen (Fung 1960; Morales 1998, Kaulicke 2001, Makowski 2005, van Dalen 2017). However, we don’t know if every funerary bundle was perceived and treated as mallqui. The interaction with the dead should be documented in the bundle stratigraphy, with the episodes of reopening and rewrapping well visible (Shimada et al. 2015, van Dalen 2017).

The funerary bundle excavated by van Dalen on the Cerro Colorado site.

The layout of a bundle

Each funerary bundle (in Spanish: fardo) is composed of different units that create its unique stratigraphy. Instead of soil or construction elements which would be expected in a traditional excavation, these are subsequent layers of textiles, vegetal materials, metal objects, animal skin or fur, and different artifacts. The very first, “the lowest”, unit in this sequence is the mummified or skeletonised human body, the “core” of each bundle. The typical Chancay bundle resembles a rectangular box with its faces slightly curved, which sometimes confers the general appearance of a flattened cylinder. The dimensions rarely exceed 120 cm in length, 70 cm in width and 50 cm in depth. Every bundle is composed of a different number of miscellaneous layers that envelop the body creating the stratigraphic sequence.