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Precious Chilean objects arrive in Canberra

30 NOVEMBER 2004

A remarkable raft made of inflatable seal skins and a 4000-year-old mummy mask arrive at the National Museum of Australia tomorrow in readiness for the new exhibition, Extremes: Survival in the Great Deserts of the Southern Hemisphere.

Archaeologist Ruben Stehberg from the Chilean National Museum of Natural History is delivering a cache of South American objects including delicately carved snuff trays, armour worn by Spanish conquistadors and ceramic pots decorated with distinctive llama motifs.

The collection helps to tell the story of survival in Chile's Atacama Desert and is extremely well-preserved since the Atacama is the driest place on earth. Extremes features key archaeological finds from deserts across Australia, South America and Africa, tracing ancient rock art and lives shaped by dramatic environmental and social change.

WHAT: Arrival of Chilean material for Extremes

WHEN: 11am, Wednesday 1 December 2004

WHERE: Prep Room, National Museum, Acton
(Entry via Loading Dock 1, near admin entrance + bus parking)

Extremes curator and National Museum archaeologist Dr Mike Smith said the Chilean material told rich stories of life and death in extreme environments. The Chinchorro mask is a remnant of a complex mummification process where corpses were skinned, burnt, rebuilt with plant matter, then given faces of clay and plastered with red iron oxide.

Dr Smith said the two-metre long rafts, used to fish and hunt whales in the cold Pacific ocean currents, were made of two sea lion skins tied to light wooden frames and kept inflated by fishermen blowing into thin bone tubes.

The Atacama material is on loan from six institutions across Chile and Argentina.

Extremes includes 350 fascinating objects from Dr Livingstone's compass and cap to an EJ Holden from the Bush Mechanics. The exhibition is on show at the National Museum from 26 December 2004 to 9 October 2005.

For interviews, striking images or a full media kit please contact Leanda Coleman on 02 6208 5338, 0438 620 710 or l.coleman@nma.gov.au