February 28, 2011

Archaeologists Unearth Ancient Peruvian Tombs

Archaeologists have discovered a group of nine ancient Peruvian tombs in the jungles of southern Cuzco province which they say could be as important as the discovery of Machu Picchu.

The tombs, belonging to the Wari culture, were found at a long-abandoned city thought to be the last fortification of Inca resistance to Spanish colonial rule.

The location of an ancient city in the Espiritu Pampa area means that the Wari civilization, which thrived from the sixth through the 13th centuries, extended much further south and east than had previously been believed, according to the Peruvian Culture Ministry on Thursday.

Juan Julio Garcia, an official with the ministry, told Spanish news agency EFE that initial studies done on 362 artifacts found at the site, most from the tomb of an apparent dignitary, dubbed the "Lord of Wari," indicate that these people had contact with the Nascas, a civilization located across the Andes on the Pacific Coast.

The Wari, a pre-Inca civilization, had enormous cultural impact in the Andean region during their 600-year reign.

"It is an impressive Wari find in the Cuzco jungle that opens a new chapter on archaeological research and forces us to re-write history," said Juan Garcia, the cultural director for the Cuzco region, announcing the discovery late Wednesday.

"The discovery is one of the most important ever, and is comparable to Machu Picchu... and the Lord of Sipan," Garcia, referring to the 1987 discovery of the tomb of an ancient Moche lord, told AFP.

Among artifacts found in the tombs, one contained a y-shaped silver chest plate, silver mask, two golden bracelets with feline figures and two wooden walking sticks coated with silver. The tomb is thought to be that of the Lord of Wari.

The remains were found in November, but they were not made public until the arrival of Irina Bokova, the general director of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, who is on an official visit to Peru.

The tombs, part of the complex of Espiritu Pampa, are located in the Cuzco district of Vilcabamba, 680 miles southeast of Lima, Peru. Vilcabamba was the last refuge of Incan resistance after Spanish conquistadors captured and executed the Inca emperor in 1532. The last resistance leader, Tupac Amaru I, was captured by Spaniards and executed in 1572.

Luis Lumbreras, former director of the National Cultural Institute (INC), told the AFP news agency the discovery was a "spectacular, truly surprising" find. It is the first proof of Wari presence in the jungle, and proof that the Waris were in the area much earlier than the Incas, he added.

The complex of tombs was found by archaeologists in July 2010, and was studied for several months.

Lumbreras said he would not be surprised if archaeologists now unearth a Wari city in the area "that may have something to do with legends like that of Paititi."

Explorers have unsuccessfully hunted for the city of Paititi for centuries. The fabled lost city of Paititi is believed to exist somewhere in the Amazon jungle filled with gold and jewels.

Civilizations in pre-Columbian Americas left no written record of their history, so it is up to archaeologists to describe history before European contact. In places like Peru, ancient sites have been well preserved in the dry coastal region and in the Andes, but bones and textiles rarely survive in the wet and humid climates in the jungles.

Peru will also celebrate the 100-year anniversary of Machu Picchu's discovery in July. Yale University last year agreed to return thousands of artifacts taken from the site in the early 1900s, ending a long and bitter controversy.

Image Credit: Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)