All the digging paid off.
A Polish-Peruvian team of archeologists uncovered a rare, untouched ancient tomb in Peru filled with dozens of mummies and sparkling treasure. This is the first intact tomb unearthed from the Wari culture, a pre-Inca empire that thrived between 700-1000 AD.
The Peruvian government officially announced the discovery in late June, though the team had been secretly excavating for months.
Peru is a country strewn with ruins from various pre-Columbian cultures. It’s also a country with 7.8 million people living under the poverty line and with questionable educational facilities outside of major cities. This has created a culture where Peru’s dusty hills and desolate coastal deserts are picked over by huaqueros—grave diggers—looking for loot. Fearing the find would be compromised if news of the site leaked, the team led by Milosz Giersz and Roberto Pimentel Nita worked quietly for months to excavate the Wari site.
A wise decision. The team eventually unearthed three Wari queens surrounded by thousands of artifacts including the remains of 60 other mummies, probably human sacrifices, and prized possessios such as gold and silver pieces along with a vast collection of painted ceramics. The 1,200-year-old tomb, located four hours north of Lima at El Castillo de Huarme, is expected to answer several questions archeologists have about the Wari culture.
Photos of the findings can be viewed
The Wari empire originated near the Peruvian city of Ayacucho and eventually spread to cover much of modern-day Peru. At its peak, the capital contained 40,000 people while in comparison Paris had just 25,000, according to a National Geographic article describing the discovery. National Geographic has been supporting the research at El Castillo de Huarmey, along with other archeological projects in Peru.
The Wari culture is known for utilizing spaces created by previous cultures that were conquered during the empire’s expansion. One example is the the Huaca Pucllana in Miraflores, Lima. Built by the Lima Culture between 200-700 AD and likely used as an administrative center, the Wari later used it as a burial ground. The exact cause of the Wari’s eventual decline is unknown.
Giersz focused his efforts on El Castillo de Huarmey after 2010 aerial photography and geophysical imaging showed a hidden edge underground between two adobe-brick pyramids. Huaqueros frequently dig in the area; Giersz and his team actually dug through rubble dumped by grave robbers searching nearby before reaching the buried mausoleum.
Other significant historic sites have done battle with Peru’s huaqueros. The famous Lord of Sipan tomb discovered in 1978 was the richest archeological find in Peru at the time. Frequently compared to King Tut’s Egyptian tomb, the site lost part of its treasure to looters—though it was also the mysterious appearance of an increased number of gold artifacts in the black market that tipped archeologists off that a big find was nearby.
A raid of the main chamber was foiled after a jealous huaquero not included in the planned invasion told officials. To avoid local unrest and to educate the public about preserving Peruvian history rather than exploiting it for short-term financial gain, the archeological team made an effort to train and hire locals. The findings, all from the Moche culture, are on display in a modern museum in Lambayeque.
Thanks to Chupacabras for the title image of this blog.