Archaeologists excavating a necropolis north of Lima have discovered a 1,300-year-old decorated tomb from the Vara period in Peru. In the tomb are the remains of a man of high status, who was nicknamed “Lord of Huarmia”.
The remains of six other people were found in the same grave, some of whom were probably reburied after being buried elsewhere. The remains include four adults — possibly two men and two women — and three people who may be teenagers. Archaeological Faculty of the University of Warsaw (opens in a new tab).
All the remains in the grave were buried with gold and silver ornaments, bronze implements, knives, axes, baskets, woven fabrics, raw materials for baskets, as well as wood and leather – many items that make archaeologists the people buried there are thought to have been skilled artisans as well as members of the Wara elite.
“We could call this part of the royal necropolis the ‘Gallery of Elite Masters,'” Milos Gersh, an archaeologist at the University of Warsaw in Poland who is leading the project, told Live Science in an email. “For the first time, we have found the burials of the Vara male elite, who were also great craftsmen and artists.”
On the subject: A 15th-century Chan Chan mass grave was discovered in Peru
Girs’ team discovered the last grave in February at the Vara necropolis near the modern coastal city of Huarmey, in the Ancash region, about 155 miles (250 kilometers) north of Lima. It is located near a larger grave that was found in 2012 by Gersh and his wife, Patrizia Pzandka-Gersh, an associate professor at the University of Warsaw. This larger tomb contained the remains of three high-status women who were believed to be “Queen Vary,” as previously reported in Live Science.
The queens were buried with the remains of 58 other people. Most of the people were nobles who may have been buried later, but some were from the lower social classes and appear to have been sacrificed.
The Wari Empire existed around the same time as the Tiwanaku Empire to the south, and the two Andean states were often rivals, according to a 2003 paper by archaeologists. Chicago Field Museum (opens in a new tab). But the Wari and Tiwanaku empires had collapsed by that time The Inca Empire originated in roughly the same regions after about 1200 AD.
At a site near modern-day Huarmey is a pyramidal structure known as “El Castillo de Huarmey” – meaning Castle of Huarmey. Researchers have known about the structure since at least the 1940s, but many thought it was mostly empty due to grave robbers who had already looted the gold and silver.
But excavations in 2012 and 2013 by Gersh and Pzhandka-Ghersh revealed that it was an ancient Vary necropolis with at least one an untouched grave.
Subsequent excavations of the tomb of the Vara queens revealed that Castillo de Warmey was once “a great Vara mausoleum and ancestral cult site on the northern coast of Peru, an area that straddles the world controlled by the first Andean empire,” Gersh said.
The team also discovered more than 1,300 artifacts that were buried in the tomb of the Wari queens, including rich objects made of gold, silver, bronze, precious stones, wood, bone and shell, he said.
On the subject: Mummies of sacrificed llamas have been found in Peru
Hirsch believes that the “Lord of Huarmey” and the other people buried in the recently discovered tomb may have been members of the Vara elite and highly skilled artisans.
“The gold and silver artifacts stored in them confirm this assumption,” he said. “Both the men and women buried in the royal necropolis at Castillo de Warmey were directly associated with the highest level of craft production and produced the finest luxury items of their era.”
As well as an elite necropolis, the finds show that Castillo de Warmey was an important administrative center of the Wari empire, he said: “The place of production of the finest crafts in the area, especially exclusive clothing… metal ornaments and jewellery.”
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Archaeologist Justin Jennings of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto was not involved in the latest study, but he excavated other Vary sites in Peru.
He called the latest discoveries “impressive” but warned that the function of the Castillo de Warmey site during the Vara period is not well understood. Perhaps the people buried there were not elite artisans, as Gersh suggests.
“These are wonderful works, and it’s very nice that they are associated with the graves,” Jennings said. But “the dead don’t get to choose what goes into their graves—their tombstones can reflect what they did in life, but they can also reflect other types of messages.”
However, he noted that the upper classes of ancient American societies were often also elite artisans, most famously the later Maya in Mesoamerica. “The Maya elite spent a lot of time making luxury goods, so this is definitely unusual,” Jennings said.
The inclusion of unfinished objects in the grave inventory is also characteristic, he noted. “I think it lends some credence to the idea that some of these people were involved in the production of things.”
Originally published on Live Science.