A Kansas University anthropology professor and graduate students helped to rewrap a roughly 450-year-old Amazonian mummy in Peru to help preserve and support the native culture.
Bart Dean, an associate professor of anthropology, has a Fulbright teaching award that took him to the Universidad Nacional de San Martin in Tarapoto, Peru, in the fall semester.
Speaking from Peru, Dean said he and his students have been involved in a number of activities while there.
Dean oversees the anthropology division at the regional museum at the Peruvian university. The museum’s collection included the mummy, which was really more like a funeral bundle of bones that had been burned or broken and wrapped up and placed in a vessel. The mummy was in poor condition, so Dean and his students decided to work with a local group of weavers to rewrap the mummy.
Dean said the mummy is part of the Chazuta culture, of which little is known. Some say the members of the culture are the direct descendants of Incas in the Amazon, Dean said, while others suggest other origins. The mummy was — and still is — revered in the region, he said. Peruvian Incas had very involved traditions relating to death.
“They worshipped their dead,” he said.
Joshua Homan, a KU graduate student in anthropology from Salina, took courses at KU in the Quechua language. That meant he was able to help communicate with a group of indigenous weavers to help provide new wrappings for the mummy. Sydney Silverstein, another KU graduate student who speaks the language, also assisted.
Homan is pursuing a career in anthropology and has long been interested in the Amazonian region of the world.
“Being in the jungle reminds me of being in Kansas,” he said.
He acknowledged some obvious differences — the food, the culture, the language — but kayaking down a river in the jungle is a lot like kayaking down the Wakarusa River, he said. And the kindness of people in the rural areas is the same in both places, too.
Homan said he enjoyed being able to use his language skills to help preserve a society’s heritage and culture.
“It was really great,” he said.
A previous version of this story listed the incorrect title for KU associate professor of anthropology Bart Dean.