Rosie McCall reports for Newsweek:
A mummified body has been found in Bolivia’s famous Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat and a popular tourist destination.
According to Bolivian news outlet El Potosí, workers recently discovered the body atop the salt flat, a white desert spanning 4,086 square miles (10,582 square kilometers) in the Andes of southwest Bolivia.
Officials say the corpse is stiff and was found in a state of decomposition. They said the body’s condition suggests the individual died between two and three months ago.
The mummified corpse is currently under forensic investigation and officials hope to soon identify the individual and determine the cause of death. The current theory is that the body belongs to a missing person from a nearby community.
According to El Potosí, officials believe the individual is around 35 years old. Prosecutor Roxana Choque said authorities have been in contact with local communities who reported a missing person.”It can be presumed that it is that person,” Choque said.
Newsweek has contacted the Cuerpo de Policía Nacional Bolivariana.
Salar de Uyuni, located in Daniel Campos Province, is a popular traveler’s destination, enjoyed for its natural beauty and optical illusions. It is also a flamingo breeding ground.
According to NASA, the area is around the same size as Hawaii’s Big Island and was once the site of a prehistoric lake called Lago Minchin that has long since evaporated, leaving the vast salt flat that exists today.
The thick mineral-rich crusts found in the Salar de Uyuni developed over a period of several thousand years, and reach depths of 33 feet (10 meters) in some places.
Salar de Uyuni has an elevation 12,047 feet (3672 meters) above sea level and an average temperature of 10.1 °C (50.1 °F). The salt flat is considered a desert, experiencing almost no rainfall. This is especially true in April, when it sees, on average, 0.0 inches of rainfall, according to Climate-Data.org.
Harsh conditions like these may help bodies to naturally mummify, like Ötzi the Iceman, a Copper Age glacier mummy discovered in the Italian Alps after his body was frozen in time, and pre-Dynastic Egyptians, whose bodies have been found in sandy pits.
David H. Thomas, an archaeologist with the American Museum of Natural History, told The New York Times natural mummification requires extreme environmental conditions: “It has to be really dry, or really wet, or really frozen, or really high elevation.”