UPDATED: Several thousand-year-old mummies from South America have been lying for eight decades in a university collection in Oslo, mostly forgotten since a Norwegian immigrant in Chile sent them to Norway in the 1930s. Now the mummies may finally be returned, after the head of Norway’s migration museum in Hedmark County reportedly tracked them down and dug into their background.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported this week on the strange case of the mummies’ fate, unraveled by Knut Djupedal at the Migrasjonsmuseet in Stange (formerly known as the immigration museum, Norsk Utvandrermuseum). Djupedal had heard that Norwegian immigrant Gunnar Nergaard, who settled in Chile, had “found” the mummies of local indigenous folk that ranged from 500 to 2500 years old.
NRK reported that Djupedal uncovered a story “of grave robbing and mummies” that Nergaard had sent to Norway’s Etnografisk Museum in Oslo, a practice that was not illegal at the time. The mummies that the late Nergaard allegedly plundered from ancient graves years ago are believed to come from the Chinchorro group in northern Chile.
When Djupedal contacted the museum, he was told they had some items that had been sent by Neergaard, “but they claimed they didn’t have any mummies,” he told NRK. He then contacted the University of Oslo and its collection of items at its Anatomy Institute called De Schreinerske Samlinger. It contains mostly skeletons, but after what NRK described as “detective work,” Djupedal found four mummies sent from Chile. He had a photo of the mummies taken in 1930, and they matched those in the university’s collection.
“This is surprising,” Per Holck, an anatomy professor at the University of Oslo, told NRK. He’s been in charge of the Schreiner Collection and said it had “no tradition” for holding such material. The mummies apparently had simply been stashed away years ago and forgotten among the collection’s other items, “so this is quite outstanding,” said Holck, who now plans to contact authorities in Chile to possibly arrange for the mummies’ return.
Chile’s ambassador to Norway, José Miguel Cruz Sanchez, said he would welcome efforts to arrange return of the mummies to Chile. “We didn’t know there were mummies in Norway that originally came from Chile,” Sanchez told NRK. “I hope at any rate that Chilean experts can come here and examine them.”
Djupedal also supports their return. “My personal opinion is that they should be scanned, photographed and examined,” Djupedal told NRK, “and then sent back where they came from.”