Ancient Unlooted Royal Wari Tomb Discovered In Peru
June 27, 2013

Ancient Unlooted Royal Wari Tomb Discovered In Peru

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

A team of Polish and Peruvian researchers has discovered one of the most remarkable tombs in South America, and despite much excitement, the excavators knew they had to keep it a secret from the public, according to a National Geographic report.

The stunning find, an ancient imperial tomb of the Wari, had only first come to light in January 2010 while Milosz Giersz, an archaeologist at the University of Warsaw in Poland, and colleagues searched an area of El Castillo Huarmey, north of Lima, Peru. Using aerial imagery, Giersz and project co-director Roberto Pimentel Nita found an outline of a possible subterranean mausoleum between two large adobe-brick pyramids.

Upon the discovery, Giersz expressed that there was not much room for happiness as the area was constantly under threat from grave robbers. In fact, the site has been a popular hunting ground for thieves for decades. So, in order to keep looters from nabbing precious gold and silver artifacts from this 1,200-year-old "temple of the dead," Giersz and Nita kept the find quiet.

"I had a nightmare about the possibility," Giersz said in a statement.

The team dug quietly for months in one burial chamber, collecting more than a thousand artifacts, including gold and silver jewelry, bronze axes and gold tools. The team also uncovered the remains of three Wari queens as well as 60 other individuals.

Once Giersz, Nita and colleagues finished collecting the treasure trove of artifacts, it was time to reveal the discovery to the world.

In an official announcement, the discovery is to be revealed today at a press conference at the site by Peru's Minister of Culture and other important dignitaries.

The Wari, an ancient civilization that flourished in South America from about 600 to 1100 AD, was long overshadowed by the later Inca culture, whose achievements were extensively documented by Spanish conquerors. However, the Wari Empire, built in the Eighth and Ninth centuries AD, is still known through much of present-day Peru. The ancient capital of Huari became one of the world's greatest cities, with a population out-rivaling Paris, France at the time.

But the history of the Wari and their empire has been a mystery due to the fact that looters have constantly forged their way into the ancient palaces and shrines, removing the important ancient history along with the artifacts. Unable to stop the destruction and thievery, scientists have long been left with more questions than answers.

Perhaps on a lighter note, the location where the team found the ancient tomb was being used as a dump site by looters. Upon digging through the rubble last September, Giersz and colleagues uncovered an ancient ceremonial room with a stone throne. Farther below was a large mysterious chamber sealed with 30 tons of loose stone fill.

With further digging, the team uncovered even more interesting finds, including a large carved wooden mace. "It was a tomb marker," said Giersz, "and we knew then that we had the main mausoleum."

As the fill was carefully removed, the researchers discovered rows of human bodies buried in a seated position and wrapped in textiles. They found the remains of the three Wari queens in nearby chambers, each filled with gold and silver artifacts. Among some of the more impressive finds were gold and silver ear ornaments, ritual tools, silver bowls, a rare alabaster drinking cup, knives, containers, ceramics and other objects.

Giersz noted that he and his team had never seen anything like this before. "We are talking about the first unearthed royal imperial tomb," he said.

While finding the chamber and its artifacts has been a stunning revelation, archaeologists say the greatest treasure will be the wealth of information the tomb provides on the Wari civilization. The construction of the tomb shows that the Wari lords conquered and politically controlled this region of the northern coast. They also likely played a key role in the downfall of the northern Moche kingdom. In one artifact collected from the site, a depiction shows coastal warriors battling axe-wielding Wari invaders.

Giersz noted that further analysis of the "temple of the dead" and other chambers will likely reveal even more information about the Wari civilization. He said the team still has another eight to 10 years of work at the site.

"The Wari phenomenon can be compared to the empire of Alexander the Great," said Krystof Makowski Hanula, an archaeologist at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP) and scientific adviser for the project. "It's a brief historical phenomenon, but with great consequence."

The research at El Castillo de Huarmey is being supported by National Geographic's Global Exploration Fund and Expeditions Council.