Unearthed Peruvian tomb confirms that women ruled over brutal ancient culture
Centuries ago, in the Sechura Desert of northern Peru — one of the most arid and brutal environments on our planet — the Moche peopledeveloped an equally-brutal culture. With no written history left behind, much of their society still remains a mystery, but paintings on pottery have shown researchers evidence of a rigid culture of survival, with ritualized combats where the losing side was sacrificed.
Archaeologists uncover the priestess in her ‘impressive’ tomb in Chepén, northern Peru.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/24/ancient-priestess-peru-tomb-photos_n_3806695.html
Findings in recent years expanded the tale of these people even further, telling a story of how they were ruled by women, priestesses who also acted as queens. The first of the discoveries that hinted at this possibility, apparently, was the Lady of Cao, a mummy unearthed from a tomb in 2006 that showed signs of dying during childbirth. The discovery of yet another priestess’s skeleton, the latest of eight found so far, has confirmed this. The body was buried in an elaborate 1,200 year old tomb in Chepén, along with adult and child sacrifices.
Replica of Señora de Cao
“This find makes it clear that women didn’t just run rituals in this area but governed here and were queens of Mochica society,” said project director Luis Jaime Castillo, according to the Associated Free Press.
“It is the eighth priestess to be discovered,” he added. “Our excavations have only turned up tombs with women, never men.”
A female mummy, baptized the Lady of Cao, with complex tattoos on her arms has been found in a ceremonial burial site in Peru, the National Geographic Society reported Tuesday. Archaeologists say is one of the best-ever relics of a civilization that ended more than 1,300 years ago.
The mummy was accompanied by ceremonial items including jewelry and weapons, and the remains of a teenage girl who had been sacrificed, archaeologists reported. Such a complete array has never been seen before in a Moche tomb.
The presence of gold jewelry and other fine items indicates the mummy was that of an important person, but anthropologist John Verano of Tulane University said the researchers are puzzled by the presence of war clubs, which are not usually found with females.
Peruvian archaeologists, under the direction of lead scientist Régulo Franco, made the discovery last year at an ancient ceremonial site known as El Brujo – “the Wizard”.
The tomb lay near the top of a crumbling pyramid called Huaca Cao Viejo, a ruin near the town of Trujillo that has been well known since colonial times.
Verano said the finding is the first of its kind in Peru, and he likens it to the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in Egypt.
“We have an entire repertoire of a very high status tomb, preserved perfectly,” Verano said.
The burial site that held the tattooed mummy was part of an ornate enclosure holding four graves, at a ceremonial site known as El Brujo — “the Wizard” on Peru’s north coast, near Trujillo.
They said the woman was part of the Moche culture, which thrived in the area between A.D. 1 and A.D. 700. The mummy was dated about A.D. 450.
The woman had complex tattoos, distinct from others of the Moche, covering both arms and other areas. Bone scarring indicated the woman had given birth at least once. The cause of her death was not apparent.
Verano said she would have been considered an adult in her prime. Some Moche people reached their 60s and 70s.
The grave also contained headdresses, jewelry made of gold and semiprecious stones, war clubs, spear throwers, gold sewing needles, weaving tools and raw cotton.
“Perhaps she was a female warrior, or maybe the war clubs and spear throwers were symbols of power that were funeral gifts from men,” Verano said. In the thousands of Moche tombs previously exposed, no female warrior has been identified.
Mummy an “Astonishing” Find
Verano, who has been working with the El Brujo project since 1995, said the area is “one gigantic cemetery” that has been scoured by grave-robbers for centuries.
But the newly found funerary chamber had been sealed from both looters and the elements since around A.D. 450.
The Peruvian team found the complete burial array intact and perfectly preserved, down to the white cotton wrappings of the mummy bundle.
“It’s astonishing,” said Moche authority Christopher Donnan, an anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not part of the excavation. “This is far and away the best preserved Moche mummy that has ever been found.”
The find is described in the June issue of National Geographic magazine.
The Peruvian team is funded by the Augusto N. Wiese Foundation and Peru’s National Institute of Culture.
Verano’s research is funded by the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration. (National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)
The mummy of a Moche woman lies in her grave bundle with a golden bowl over her face and beads spilling from long-disintegrated necklaces. At the lower edge of the image, tattoos can be seen on the mummy’s arm.
Ira Block / National Geographic
The elaborately wrapped mummy was discovered perfectly preserved.
Another important find involved how the Moche culture disappeared.
Originally, it was thought that they died off due to a devastating climate upheaval — a ‘mega-El Nino‘ that lasted for 30 years. Evidence in the mountains of northern Peru showed that, sometime between 560 and 650 A.D., there was 30 years of drought followed by 30 years of heavy rain and snow. It’s known that when the mountains experience these weather conditions, the Sechura Desert gets the opposite effect, so the Moche would have been subjected to 30 years of rainy weather followed by 30 years of extreme drought.
However, recent evidence points to a more violent downturn for the Moche. They apparently survived the extreme shifts in climate, but with scarce resources left over in the aftermath, they turned on each other, exchanging their ritualized combats for a bloody civil war that eventually destroyed them.
(Photos courtesy: Douglas Suarez/AFP/Getty Images)
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- Ancient tomb confirms powerful priestess ruled Peru long ago (rawstory.com)
- Girl Power! Women Ruled Brutal Ancient Culture? (huffingtonpost.com)
- 1700 Year Old Peruvian Priestess: Did Women Rule Peru? (webpronews.com)