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Opata Culture Mummified Healer Woman Discovered in Sonora
Feminine mummified burial dated between 17th and 18th centuries. Photo: Centro INAH Sonora.

MEXICO CITY.- Researchers of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) discovered in a cave at Sierra Madre Occidental (Western Mountain Range), in Bavispe municipality, Sonora, a feminine mummified burial dated between 17th and 18th centuries. The characteristics of the offering point out that she might have been a healing woman from Opata culture, now extinct.

Mario Gonzalez Valenzuela, director of Sonora INAH Center informed that the body showed evidence of being tied up, gagged, placed in a mortuary sack and covered with matting as part of a ritual. Vestiges of vegetal fibers, a decorated ceramic bowl and rests of a cremated infant were found as part of the offering.

He remarked that if confirmed that the burial belongs to the Colonial period, it would be the first evidence of Opata funerary tradition, the largest ethnic group in Sonora during the 17th century.

The corps mummified due to natural conditions of humidity and temperature of Sierra Madre Occidental caves, which allow conservation of organic material.

According to interpretation of Sonora INAH Center archaeologists, directed by Jupiter Martinez, the woman was buried as part of a ritual associated to her ancestors. Objects linked to Oqui, which means woman in Opata, allow assuming she was a healer.

Studies around Oqui, kept at Sonora INAH Center, are in the planning and fundraising stage. X rays, computer axial tomography, DNA, endoscopy and visceral food sampling tests must be conducted.

These analyses will allow knowing age, possible cause of death, relation between the woman and the child, objects associated and feeding customs among other details.

Archaeologist Jupiter Martinez mentioned that the finding was made during the first field season of the Sierra Alta de Sonora Archaeological Project, which aim is to reconstruct quotidian life of Prehispanic communities of Sierra Madre Occidental settled in Bavispe River Basin, a place characterized with intense presence of Casas Grandes culture settlements.

During the first stage, 7 new archaeological sites were found. During the second stage, excavations took place at cave dwellings or cliff dwellings, spaces built with adobe inside caves or rock shelters.

The 50 meters long cave selected to conduct first archaeological research contains more than 20 collapsed rooms; some of them were up to 3 stories, based on the evidence of pine and oak poles that supported the structure.

Corn cobs, leaves, stems and seeds; squash peel and seeds, nuts, acorns, beans, agave, guaje (leucaena), as well as rests of matting, cords and leather were found. Other objects associated to the offering were shell beads, textile fragments, mummified animals, ceramics, charcoal, feathers, and stone carved items.

Elements found in the cave provide invaluable information regarding the extinct Opata culture of Sonora; the second field season is programmed in spring 2010.

National Institute of Anthropology and History | Sonora | mummy | funerary | Opata |

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