THREE treasure-filled 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.

After three 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 occupant’s 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.

“The 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 it’s got to be one of the greatest pieces of pre- Columbian art ever excavated”.

Walter Alva, 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.

“We 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.”

Mr Alva 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.

“There were objects in these tombs that I have never seen or even imagined before,” Mr Donnan said.

Images of 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.

The Moche civilisation existed for about 700 years on the desert plain between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.

Mr Donnan said all the treasures had been taken out of the tombs and a selection will be on display in Florence in May.

Daily Telegraph. February 17 2001


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