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Home Culture The Parliament of the Canary Islands demands the return of the Guanche mummy from the National Archaeological Museum | Culture

The Parliament of the Canary Islands demands the return of the Guanche mummy from the National Archaeological Museum | Culture

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The plenary session of the Parliament of the Canary Islands approved this Wednesday a non-law proposal promoted by the Canary Coalition in which the transfer to Tenerife of the Guanche mummy of Erques, which has been exhibited since 2015 in the National Archaeological Museum (MAN), is requested. All groups voted in favor, with the exception of the four Vox deputies. The parties approved, in turn, the creation of a commission to promote its transfer “through agreement.” These remains have been a source of confrontations since the seventies, since it is probably the best preserved mummified person of those embalmed in the pre-Hispanic Canary Islands. The MAN rejects its return due to the risk involved in its transfer.

The Canarian mummy of Erques.

“Its return to the island of Tenerife is an old request of the Canarian political and scientific authorities,” reads the proposal, “because it is essential archaeological heritage in the history of the Islands and because the Museum of Nature and Archeology of Tenerife brings together the technical and scientific conditions to guarantee its transfer, conservation and exhibition.” The speaker of the proposal, the nationalist representative Ana Oramas, has influenced this idea in her speech before the Chamber. The Tenerife representative has regretted that all national governments have opposed this transfer for political reasons or “technical” issues, such as the “irreparable risks” that the transfer could entail, something that the representative has considered “overcome.” “It is part of our identity and is essential archaeological heritage in the history of the islands,” states the proposition.

The pre-Hispanic aborigines of all the islands widely practiced mummification of their deceased, although it was more widespread on the two capital islands, Tenerife and Gran Canaria. The conquest of the archipelago by the Crown of Castile erased many vestiges, including the language. The first conquerors, however, did take care to reflect this practice in their writings. There are various theories about what the evisceration, embalming and drying process was like, which probably varied depending on the social stratum and the period. But there are some certainties, such as the substances and materials used – lard or cattle butter, heather or pine, mocán, wild sage, cyclamen and volcanic picón -, the duration of the complete process – about 15 days – and the name they used. the aborigines to refer to mummies: xaxos.

Detail of the chest of the Erques mummy, where there is a large patch attached to the mummy.Fernando Velasco (MAN)

Once wrapped, the mummies were moved to caves located in ravines, cliffs or slopes, places that were difficult to access and where the help of ropes and certain climbing equipment was sometimes necessary. It was in one of these caves, in the Barranco de Erques (southeast coast of Tenerife, between the municipalities of Güímar and Fasnia), where the mummy claimed by the Canarian Parliament was discovered around the year 1763. It is known that it corresponded to a man of about 35 or 40 years old, 1.62 meters tall, from a high social class, who still has his hair and all his teeth and has manicured nails, who was not eviscerated or had his brain and who lived in Tenerife more than 850 years ago. “It is the best preserved Guanche mummy,” says the director of the Museum of Nature and Archeology of Tenerife, Conrado Rodríguez-Maffiote.

In that same cave, “hundreds of mummies” were found, according to the Canarian priest and biologist José Viera y Clavijo (1731-1813), all of them stacked and wrapped in “prettily sewn” skins. Thus, the discoverers did something that would be common throughout the following centuries, according to Rodríguez-Maffiote: take the remains and distribute them to museums around the world—many others would be directly destroyed. This specimen was chosen because it had the most perfect and best preserved body. The xaxo arrived in Madrid in July 1764 bound for the court of Charles III and, after half a dozen transfers over the next two centuries – to which must be added its time at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1878 ―, ended up ending up together with four other specimens in the National Museum of Anthropology in Madrid in the 1970s. Four of them returned to Tenerife last decade. That of Erques stayed in Madrid and was transferred to the National Archaeological Museum in 2015.

The Guanche mummy from the Barranco de Erques, in the National Archaeological Museum in 2015. Emilio Naranjo (EFE)

The Canary Islands, and Tenerife in particular, have been demanding the return of Erques’ mummy for decades. In 1976, the Tenerife Cabildo carried out the first official claim for the restitution of the remains. It would be followed by another half dozen official requests – including one from the Senate itself – in 1990, 2004, 2006, 2012, 2017 and 2021. None have been taken into consideration. The director of the MAN, Isabel Izquierdo, has repeatedly used the protection of the preservation of the remains to oppose this transfer.

Both Rodríguez-Maffiote and the non-law proposal itself reject these arguments. “There is no justification,” says the first. “The mummy module of the Museum of Nature and Archeology of Tenerife is considered by entities such as the Getty Foundation and the Ministry of Culture itself to be one of the best in the world due to the quality of its collection and its conservation and exhibition systems,” he asserts. the second. He adds in his argument the restitution that the Argentine Government agreed to in 2003, as well as other transfers of xaxos to the Canary Islands from remains from “several places in the world such as Peru, the United States or Chile.”

This new petition aims to benefit from the “review” of the collections of state museums “to overcome a colonial framework” that Ernest Urtasun’s minister announced in January. This declaration of intent, however, has not been accompanied by more details. Thus, in a subsequent interview with EL PAÍS, he limited himself to stating that these are “things that all the countries around us are doing and also the Spanish museums themselves, which have been adapting the museumization so that the views were respectful and non-discriminatory.”

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