Newly unearthed tomb sheds light on mysterious civilization that preceded the Inca


Archaeologists Roberto Pimentel Nita, left, Wiesław Więckowski and Patrycja Prządka-Giersz (dig through the first layers of human remains in a newly discovered tomb in El Castillo de Huarmey, Peru. (Milosz Giersz/National Geographic)

It’s not quite as exciting as North Korea’s “unicorn lair,” perhaps, but archaeologists in Peru have just unearthed the previously undisturbed royal tomb of a sophisticated, little-known Andean civilization that predated the Inca.

The tomb contains 63 bodies, including three queens, National Geographic reports. A number of the bodies appear to have been human sacrifices. The tomb also held more than a thousand artifacts, including jewelry, knives, axes and painted ceramics from across the region. The Peruvian news site Peru21 called the site "one of the most important archaeological remains of the last century."

Here's one of the artifacts they found – more photos at the bottom of this post:


With eyes wide open, a painted Wari lord stares out from the side of a 1,200-year-old ceramic flask found in a newly discovered tomb at El Castillo de Huarmey in Peru. (Daniel Giannoni/National Geographic)

Researchers are hoping the discovery will help them solve a number of mysteries that have nagged historians for years. We know, for instance, that a civilization called the Wari ruled much of present-day Peru toward the end of the first millennium (the exact dates vary), or about 500 years before the rise of the Inca. Their capital, Hurai, had an estimated 40,000 people at its peak. They drank a beer-like beverage called "chicha" at huge feasting areas that could seat several hundred people.

"I want people to understand that civilization in the Andes way predates the Inca and that the Wari was a very complicated, sophisticated civilization," Susan Bergh, the art historian responsible for bringing the first Wari exhibit to the U.S., told the Wall Street Journal last year.

But we don’t know what caused the Wari civilization to collapse, due in part to widespread looting at archaeological sites (and the fact that the preliterate Wari burned their own buildings before they left), or how the Wari consolidated their empire to begin with. Researchers have also struggled to understand even some of the most basic Wari rituals and customs, like the display of human trophy heads. That may help explain why you never learned about them in school. And that could change as archaeologists process the tomb and its contents -- they’ve only just begun, and they suspect that other chambers could still be buried.


Images of winged beings adorn a pair of gold-and-silver ear ornaments a high-ranking Wari woman wore to her grave. (Daniel Giannoni/National Geographic)

Protected from looters by 30 tons of stone, those interred in the mausoleum lay exactly where Wari attendants left them some 1,200 years ago. (Milosz Giersz/National Geographic)
Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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