Images of winged, supernatural beings adorn a pair of heavy gold-and-silver ear ornaments that a high-ranking Wari woman wore to her grave in the newly discovered mausoleum at El Castillo de Huarmey in Peru.
The Wari forged South America's earliest empire between 700 and 1000 A.D., and their Andean capital boasted a population greater than that of Paris at the time. Today, Peru's Minister of Culture will officially announce the discovery of the first unlooted Wari imperial tomb by a team of Polish and Peruvian researchers. In all, the archaeological team has found the remains of 63 individuals, including three Wari queens.
Peruvian project co-director, Roberto Pimentel Nita (left), bioarchaeologist Dr. Wiesław Więckowski (center), and archaeologist Dr. Patrycja Prządka-Giersz (right) starting digging the first layers of human remains at the main chamber. In the foreground, a massive carved wooden mace protrudes from the chamber—an ancient tomb marker. When the team found it, says University of Warsaw archaeologist Milosz Giersz, "we knew then that we had the main mausoleum."
Protected from looters by an upper layer consisting of 30 tons of loose stone, the remains of this Wari queen lay exactly where Wari mourners left her some 1,200 years ago. Archaeologist Krzysztof Makowski Hanula, the project's scientific adviser, describes the mausoleum as a pantheon, where all the Wari nobles of the region were buried.
Wari attendants placed most of the dead in sitting position, then bundled them with precious possessions in cloth woven from llama wool and cotton. But archaeologists found six of the bodies lying in an extended position: these may have been human sacrifices or offerings to the gods.
As archaeologists dug in one side chamber, they unearthed the remains of a Wari queen and several regal offerings, including a brilliantly painted ceramic flask (right) and an alabaster drinking cup (left).
With eyes wide open, a painted Wari lord stares out from the side of a 1,200-year-old ceramic flask found with the remains of a Wari queen. Giersz and his colleagues think the Wari may have displayed the body of the queen after death in a royal ancestor cult.
The newly discovered tomb contained many rare treasures, including this drinking cup carved from alabaster. It is the only such cup known from ancient Andean sites.
Semi-Precious Stone Beads
Still caked in earth, strings of semi-precious stone beads from the tomb await cleaning and conservation.
Carved Wooden Artifacts
One of the things that amazed and delighted archaeologists was the excellent preservation of wooden artifacts in the imperial tomb. Some 1,200 years ago, a Wari artist carved a supernatural winged being on the handle of this weaver's spoon.
Bending to his work inside the burial chamber, archaeologist Milosz Giersz brushes away sediments from a small cane box. Giersz and his colleagues found gold weaving tools tucked inside such boxes. The Wari queens, they now surmise, wove cloth with gold instruments.