for National Geographic News
An exquisitely preserved and elaborately tattooed mummy of a young woman has been discovered deep inside a mud-brick pyramid in northern Peru, archaeologists from Peru and the U.S. announced today.
(See photos of the mummy from National Geographic magazine.)
The 1,500-year-old mummy may shed new light on the mysterious Moche culture, which occupied Peru's northern coastal valleys from about A.D. 100 to 800.
In addition to the heavily tattooed body, the tomb yielded a rich array of funeral objects, from gold sewing needles and weaving tools to masterfully worked metal jewelry.
Such a complete array has never been seen before in a Moche tomb.
Surprisingly, the grave also contained numerous weapons, including two massive war clubs and 23 spear throwers.
The unusual mix of ornamental and military artifacts has experts speculating about the woman's identity and her role in Moche society.
"The war clubs are clear symbols not only of combat but of power," said John Verano, an anthropologist at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, who is part of the research team.
Peruvian archaeologists, under the direction of lead scientist Régulo Franco, made the discovery last year at an ancient ceremonial site known as El Brujo (map showing site of mummy's discovery).
The tomb lay near the top of a crumbling pyramid called Huaca Cao Viejo, a ruin near the town of Trujillo (see Peru map) that has been well known since colonial times.
Verano said the finding is the first of its kind in Peru, and he likens it to the discovery of King Tut's tomb in Egypt.
"We have an entire repertoire of a very high status tomb, preserved perfectly," Verano said.
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