The Origin of the Guanches Mummies

Known as the first inhabitants of the Canary Islands, the Guanches are now an extinct culture thought to have migrated to the archipelago between 1000 BC and 100 BC , possibly earlier. The culture that once existed has vanished with hints of the people captured in various language dialects and historical accounts from other civilizations. In this article, you will learn about the Guanches Mummies.

We draw upon the accounts of Roman author and military officer, Pliny the Elder, as a way to explore the origins of the Guanches culture. It is believed that the people he spoke of concerning an expedition to the islands of Mauretania where ruins of great buildings were uncovered. This discovery took place around 50 BC, but no other population was in the vicinity. If this account is genuine, then it highlights information that places the Guanches as the first and only inhabitants of this particular region. Other historians suggest that the bulk of the islands could have been overlooked in terms of exploration.

Overall, the Guanches are considered the primitive inhabitants of Tenerife, where the people lived in an isolated community that lasted until the Castilian conquest that took place around the 14th century. Before the conquest, the region was most likely visited by the likes of the Portuguese and Genoans as far back as the 8th century. Due to exposure to colonists, many Guanches died. They were also susceptible to the infectious diseases that newcomers brought into their world. Since they lived in isolation, they lacked the immunity to fight back the sickness.

Remnants of their language (called Guanche) have survived, including a couple of vocabulary words, proper names, and cultural expressions. Evidence of their way of speaking was recorded by a Genovese explorer named Nicoloso da Recco, who translated some of their numbers in 1341.

Exploration of some of the islands has produced a variety of petroglyphs that have been attributed to some Mediterranean civilizations. However, European recorders recall that the Guanches did not utilize a system of writing at the time of their conquest. Therefore, inscriptions once linked to the culture may not be accurately credited.

The Guanches Mummies

The Guanches of the Canary Islands had a custom of embalming their dead. Archeologists have uncovered an assortment of mummies that show the signs of extreme desiccation. Because of the elements and time that has passed, each body weighs no more than six or seven pounds. Their process of preparing the bodies of their dead are often compared to the techniques used by the ancient Egyptians with varying process depending on specific locales.

In Tenerife, goat and sheep skins were used to wrap the corpse. Other islands relied on a resinous substance to preserve the body. After preparation, the body was situated in a cave that did not allow easy access. Sometimes, the dead were buried in a tumulus , a mound of stones or dirt.

In the island region, the deceased underwent the process of embalming according to special classes separating by sex. Not all bodies were treated to embalming, as others were simple concealed in caves or buried underground.