An excerpt from: American Indians in the Pacific, pp. 321-324, by Thor Heyerdahl, 1952.

Tall stature , narrow face, and non-Mongoloid hair on Paracas mummies

Nowhere in Peru has a large group of Pre-Inca mummies been preserved for posterity under better conditions than those of the Paracas burial caverns and stone-lined tombs on the Pacific coast. Stewart (1943) says: "One of the most important developments in Peruvian archeology was the discovery in 1925 by Tello and Lothrop of two sites on the Paracas Peninsula 18 km south of Pisco, representing one of the earliest coastal cultures" Here several hundred carefully wrapped mummies were revealed, a small series of which have been systematically examined. Kroeber tentatively places the remains within the Early Nazca period. Tello holds that they even antedate this time and are contemporary with Early Chavin, and the Carbon 14 method suggests that they date from about 300 B. C., plus or minus 200 years. There is accordingly no doubt about their great age and pre-Inca origin.

Examining the blood groups in some of these mummies, Candela (1943 p. 65) failed to get the normal reactions of naturally dried and untreated mummies. He suggested that one reason was "the presence in most of the tissue of some gummy resinous material, serving perhaps as a preservative. This substance was particularly evident in extracts produced by means of boiling water, and it rendered the performance of the tests by this method as almost impossible."

Examining the Paracas skeletal remains, Stewart (1943 p. 59) found that these mummified individuals were of a noticeably taller stature than formerly known Indians in Peru and that they differ from known Indians also in facial form. Both cranial deformations and trepanning were observed. Stuart's own conclusion was: "It appears hence that the Paracas group differs from the Peruvian skeletal remains thus far studied, particularly in general size and in narrowness of the facial features. As I have pointed out, however, this may be a selected group of large males and not typical of the population as a whole."

The author also suggests that the narrowness of the facial features may be perhaps explained as a secondary alteration following an artificial deformation of the skull.

If there were any way of ascertaining that all people of pre-Inca Peru were the same as those of Inca times, then these explanations would undoubtedly be the only logical ones, as a narrow face could then only occur through artificial pressure in infancy and an exceptional tallness only by selection of unusual men for mummification. But until an historically homogeneous race behind the Inca and pre-Inca Empires has been proved to have existed, there is still the possibility that the earlier people in question were embalmed not because of their size, but because of their rank or race.

The hair on some of these Paracas mummies was also thoroughly analysed. Trotter (1943, p. 69) based the interesting hair analysis on pieces of scalp from ten Paracas mummies of which two were females, and of which one male and one female had in advance been classified as 'young'. She says: "... there was some evidence that the others were old, since the sample in each case was interspersed with very light yellow hairs which may be assumed to have been white. In general the color was rusty brown and gave the appearance of having faded. These hairs fluoresced, the lightish or yellowish ones more brilliantly than the darker hairs. In all cases the hairs were extremely brittle and had to be handled with greatest care." Further (p. 70): "The hair of mummies 94 and 310 was quite definitely wavy; that of the others appeared to be straight."

Trotter does not attempt to give an explanation for this latter interesting statement that two out of the ten scalps examined had plainly wavy hair.

Neither does she imply that the rusty-brown hair-colour showed evidence of having faded from the normal black-blue Indian hair, as will be seen from the following. It would also be difficult to visualize that the rusty hair had brightened from the original black if the light yellow hair on the same heads have darkened from white. One should expect that the hair colour of these mummies has assumed a generally darker or a generally lighter hue. If post mortem change of pigment has taken place on these particular Paracas mummies, as opposed to others in Peru and those in North Africa, then the combination of both rusty brown and very light yellow hair on the same heads would seem to argue that the original colour had been black interspersed with rusty brown hairs, or else yellow-blond interspersed with white hairs.

Apart from colour and degree of waviness of hair, its fineness and also the shape of its cross section are, as is well known, the two additional characteristics used for classifying hair types. Mongoloid hair, like that of the common American Indian, is wide in cross section area and circular in cross section form. The degree of ovalness in cross section form seems closely associated with the degree of waviness or curliness of the hair itself.

Trotter (Ibid., p. 72) says about the microscopically analysed form of Paracas mummy-hair, after classifying it in accordance with Martin's grading system: "The cross section form shows so much divergency between the mummies that they cover all divisions of hair form ..." And: " It has been assumed that these mummies are all from one racial stock, therefore this analysis must necessarily be one of individual variation from an interracial standpoint."

As to the size of the cross section area, she found (Ibid., p. 75) that: "The size of the hair was much smaller than has been found for other Indians, but not so small as has been recorded for at least one white racial group [the Dutch]."

The author stressed in her summary that: "The form and size of the hair of ten Paracas mummies showed wide variation." She showed that although some of the hair samples were wide, yet the average was "approximately 30% less than the average mean areas found in four Indian tribes by Steggerda and Seibert and for the adult French Canadians by Trotter and Dawson."

Unguided by any working hypothesis Trotter presents her important analysis of the Paracas mummy hair as a series of remarkable somatological data from early coastal Peru. On the assumption that the current anthropological view is correct, that no intrusive or mixed race element was present in Peru before the arrival of the Spaniards, Trotter was led to speak of the necessity of "individual variation from an interracial standpoint", while suggesting that the unusual Caucasoid fineness of the hair might possibly have been due to changes during the process of mummification. On my asking whether or not there was an actual reason to believe that the fine, brownish and occasionally wavy hair had changed greatly post mortem, having been coarse and black like normal Indian hair on the live natives, Dr. Trotter (1951)* wrote me as follows with reference her paper quoted above: "I have gone over all the evidence we have and have discussed it with Mr, O. H. Duggins, who is now working with me on the subject of the hair. His background is an interesting one, since he has worked in the hair and fiber section of the F. B. I. I have come to the conclusion that there are two mistakes in my paper on the mummies' hair. The first mistake was to introduce the word 'Indian', and the second was the use of the word 'faded'. Now I shall try to answer your direct questions with a direct answer. The hair of the Paracas mummies which I examined in 1943 may have changed color and texture slightly. However, the amount of change in either colour or texture from any evidence we have would not deny that the original colour was a reddish brown and that the original texture was fine." Although no reason was found to warrant the hypothesis that the reddish-brown scalps had ever 'faded' from blue-black, microscopic examination showed that the light yellow hairs, interspersed to a very slight extent in eight of the samples, contained no pigment, and hence presumably had been even lighter, or white.

Trotter further writes that the cross section area of the hair is closely correlated with its weight, and that hair of Arabs of Central Iraq was tested for change in weight before and after dehydration. After 16 hours of dehydration the alteration of weight ended, and no further change took place afterwards. The hair had then lost between 4 and 5 per cent of its weight. Trotter (Ibid.) writes: "Since the Arab weight lost its weight during the first 16 hours of dehydration it is unlikely that the shrinkage of mummy hair (if it does occur) could greatly exceed 5 per cent of the volume." This is interesting, since she found, as we have earlier seen, that although some of the Paracas hair samples were wide, yet the average from all the mummies examined was approximately 30% less than on normal Indian hair. Evidently then, Trotter is right in being cautious in use of the word 'Indian' with reference to the Paracas mummies, provided the term 'Indian' may not be used in its wider sense to denominate any racial type inhabiting the Americas before the arrival of Columbus.

Before I was kindly furnished with this interesting information by Trotter, the British Museum had suggested W. R. Dawson as a leading British authority to consult on the question of possible change in mummy hair. Dawson (1928, p. 127) who is earlier quoted as examining on the Pacific coast of North Chile an embalmed adult woman with "abundant light-brown hair", was kind enough to send me his opinion as follows:

* "From the examination of a large number of mummies both from Egypt and other countries including South America, my opinion is that hair does not undergo any marked change post-mortem. The hair of a wavy or curly individual remains curly or wavy, and that of a straight-haired person remains straight. In mummies and desiccated bodies the hair has a tendency to be crisp and brittle, but this id the natural result of the drying-up of the selacetes glands, which during life, feed fatty matter into the hairfollicles which keeps the hair supple and flexible ... it seems to me very unlikely that any change in colour would take place in a body which had never been exposed to the light, ...To sum up then, all the evidence I have indicates that the nature of hair does not alter after death except in becoming dry and brittle."

* M. Trotter, Professor of Gross Anatomy, Washington University School of Medicine: letter dated June 22, 1951

* Letter dated May 21 1951.