"Unexpected" Man Found Amid Ancient Priestesses' Tombs

September 18, 2009

In an "unexpected" discovery, a rattle-wielding elite male has been found buried among powerful priestesses of the pre-Inca Moche society in Peru, archaeologists announced Monday. (See pictures of Moche treasures from the tomb.)

Surrounded by early "smoke machines" as well as human and llama bones, the body was among several buried inside a unique double-chambered tomb that dates back to A.D. 850, said archaeologist Luis Jaime Castillo Butters, of the Catholic University of Peru in Lima.

The tomb contained a wooden coffin decorated with a copper lattice and a gilded mask, sitting on a raised platform. Inside the coffin "is where we find the main object of the burial, and that fellow is a male," Castillo said.

"After 18 years of excavation in San José de Moro, we were expecting another female," he added. "But this tends to happen [in archaeology]—expect the unexpected."

(See related pictures of masks and other treasures from the tomb of the Moche "king of bling.")

"Smoke Machines," Llama Sacrifice?

The Moche people were a fragmented society of farmers who occupied the arid coasts of Peru from about A.D. 100 to 1000. (See a Peru map.)

Since 1991 Castillo has led excavations at San José de Moro, a regional ceremonial center and cemetery for elite Moche in the northern coast's Jequetepeque Valley.

The site has so far yielded seven royal priestess burials, an indication of the powerful role of women in Moche society, Castillo said.

This year Castillo's team started excavations on the first known double-chambered Moche tomb. The work was partially funded by the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)

Artwork painted on known Moche pottery often depicts a ritual ceremony where a coffin is lowered into a tomb like the one that held the rattle-wielding male.

The funerals, Castillo noted, were cause for celebration and allowed for the seamless transition of power from one ruler to the next. Living priestesses probably performed such burials at annual festivals held at San José de Moro.

Continued on Next Page >>


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