tombs from a little-known ancient society that disappeared 700
years before the Incas reached the peak of their power, have
been found in Peru.
years of digging, Peruvian and American archaeologists have
unearthed three tombs in a 105ft pyramid at Sipan, 300 miles
north-east of Lima on the Peruvian coast, a monument of the
Moche civilisation, dating to between 800 and 1000 BC.
In the richest
of the three tombs, the male occupants face was encased
in a large copper bowl, beneath which was a finely detailed
copper and gold funerary mask. Five gold objects were found
in his mouth, and ornate sculptures in gold, copper an clay
lined his tomb.
most memorable moment was when we uncovered the burial mask
said Christopher Donnnan, an anthropologist from the University
of California, Los Angeles. It was almost life-size. And
its got to be one of the greatest pieces of pre- Columbian
art ever excavated.
a Peruvian archaeologist on the team, said the mask was in such
good condition that it was fully restored with just a
wipe down to get off the dirt. Archaeologists were also
surprised by the size of the three buried nobles. Mr Connan
believes these men are the tallest pre-Columbians ever excavated
in South America.
were astonished at he height of these individuals, Mr
Donnan said. They were up to 6ft tall. The average Moche
male is between 4ft 9in and 5ft 6in tall and so they were way
out of the range.
said the three men belonged to the Moche elite, almost
certainly from an important caste of warriors, an assertion
backed up by the array of weapons found in the tombs: war clubs,
spear-throwers, spears, and gold-plated shields.
were objects in these tombs that I have never seen or even imagined
before, Mr Donnan said.
bats, which held a special place in Moche culture, adorn the
tombs, in depictions of human sacrifices and ritual blood drinking.
Also found was an exquisite ceramic bat, a headdress decorated
with gilded copper bats, and a gold bat nose ornament.
civilisation existed for about 700 years on the desert plain
between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.
said all the treasures had been taken out of the tombs and a
selection will be on display in Florence in May.
February 17 2001
BY JEREMY MCDERMOTT, LATIN AMERICAN CORRESPONDENT