Tombs of Pre-Inca Elite Discovered Under Peru Pyramid

Tombs of Pre-Inca Elite Discovered Under Peru Pyramid

A complex of tombs recently discovered under a pyramid in Peru offers landmark clues to a thousand-year-old pre-Incan culture at Túcume: a pre-Hispanic site in Peru, south of the La Leche River on a plain around La Raya Mountain. It covers an area of over 540 acres (220 ha) and encompassing 26 major pyramids and mounds.

Tucume Archeological Complex

A team co-led by Izumi Shimada, an archaeologist with Southern Illinois University, found 22 artifact-laden tombs about 420 miles (675 kilometers) northwest of Lima, the capital.

The area is referred to as Purgatorio (purgatory) by local people. The vast plains of Túcume are part of the Lambayeque region, the largest valley of the north coast of Peru. The Lambayeque Valley is the site of scores of natural and man-made waterways and is also a region of about 250 decaying brick pyramids.

Map of Peru- Lambayeque region top left, third down on coast

Among the findings are meticulously arranged human remains; gold, gilt copper, and bronze artifacts; and the first decorated tumi, or ceremonial knives, ever discovered by archaeologists at a burial site.

The graves belong to elite members of the Middle Sican culture, a gold-working people whose farming culture thrived in Peru’s desert coastal region from around A.D. 900 to 1100.

Shimada and colleague Carlos Elera Arevalo, director of Peru’s Sican National Museum, say the discovery is yielding crucial clues to this ancient civilization.

Ceremonial Knives

A key find involved 12 ceremonial tumi knives. Eight of the knives were plain, four were decorated, and two bore the likeness of the Sican Deity, believed by Sicans to rule the supernatural world.

Archaeologists have previously found undecorated tumi knives in residential and ceremonial settings. But until now they had never excavated ceremonial knives bearing ideologically charged representations of the Sican Deity.

Shimada said some scholars believe the deity on the knives to be Naylamp, a figure who, according to an oral history recorded by Spaniards in the 16th century, became a god after emerging from the sea.

Shimada said it is particularly important that the tomb complex was found beneath a pyramidal temple mound known as Huaca Loro.

Tucume Archeological Complex

This site was a major regional center, maybe even the capital of the successive occupations of the area by the Lambayeque/Sican (800-1350 AD), Chimú (1350–1450 AD) and Inca (1450–1532 AD). Local shaman healers (curanderos) invoke power of Tucume and La Raya Mountain in their rituals, and local people fear these sites. Hardly anyone other than healers venture out in this site at night.

According to the legend, it was built in the year 700 A.D. and was founded by Calac, descendent of Naymlap. Tucume, or Valle de las Pirámides (Valley of the Pyramids), is made up of twenty-six pyramids, the most impressive ones being the Huaca del Pueblo, La Raya, El Sol, and Las Estacas.

“Many pre-Hispanic tombs were placed in existing mounds, but this is the first time that a major cemetery was found underlying a major mound,” he said.

The artifacts and elements of the tombs’ layout suggest that the Sican had a deep reverence for ancestors and that the people had apparently made repeated pilgrimages to the site.

“The fact that people had come at least 20 times over 500 years to leave offerings and burn the ground around the cemetery indicates the intimate and persistent relations between local populations and their ancestors,” according to the project summary.

Shimada said the team found a “seated adult male personage wearing a copper-silver crown, decorated tumi knives, a gilt copper ceremonial cup, a large pectoral made of a gilt copper disk, and turquoise, shell, and other beads.”

The man was found in a small square tomb 23 feet (7 meters) below the modern ground surface. He had been buried facing east toward a tomb believed to house one of the Sican’s dynastic founders. “We also documented a number of large tombs of female elites that suggest that they played important social and religious roles in the Middle Sican culture,” Shimada said.

One woman in her 20s was found sitting cross-legged in a 11.5-foot-square (3.5-meter-square) shaft tomb 33 feet (10 meters) below the surface.

Her body was surrounded by painted cloths and flanked by ceramic vessels, cast bronze artifacts, and a ceremonial cup of copper-silver alloy, he said.

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