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Archaeologists discover a 1000-year-old mummy in Peru
Jun 15, 2018

Mary Henderson
Core Spirit member since Dec 24, 2020
Reading time 2 min.

A team from the Université libre de Bruxelles’s center for archaeological research (CReA-Patrimoine) has completed a significant excavation in Pachacamac, Peru, in which they’ve found a complete mummy in especially good condition. Pachacamac’s status as a Pre-Colombian pilgrimage site under the Inca empire is supported by additional proof.

Peter Eeckhout along with his team’s latest campaign of archaeological excavations has concluded with a thrilling surprise: after fourteen days spent investigating the Pre-Colombian site of Pachacamac, Peru, the investigators from CReA-Patrimoine (ULB Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences) have discovered a mummy in particularly good condition. ‘The deceased is still wrapped in the enormous funeral bundle that served as a coffin,’ points out professor Peter Eeckhout. ‘Discoveries like this one are exceptionally scarce, and this mummy is incredibly well preserved. Samples were collected for carbon-14 dating, but the area in which it was discovered and the type of tomb suggest this individual was buried between 1000 and 1200 AD.’

The excavation was completed as part of the ‘Ychsma’ project, named after the area’s native people, under the supervision of professor Eeckhout. Three enormous structures were explored during the campaign, including a sanctuary devoted to the regional ancestors. Under Inca rule, in the late 15th century, it seems to have been transformed into a water and healing temple. The archaeologists have found many offerings made by worshippers, for example Spondylus shells imported from Ecuador; those are associated with the influx of water during El Niño, and they symbolise fertility and prosperity.

Before the Inca settled in the region, the sanctuary included large funerary chambers and numerous mummies, the majority of which have been looted during the Spanish conquest. Miraculously, however, one of the chambers was discovered intact during the most recent round of excavations: that is the funeral chamber that held the mummy. Because of how well it had been maintained, the investigators will be able to examine it without needing to unwrap the bundle. Together with Christophe Moulherat (Musée du Quai Branly, Paris), they will examine the mummy utilizing the newest methods in medical imaging (X-ray scans, axial tomography, 3D reconstruction, etc.). This will permit them to ascertain the individual’s position, any pathologies they may have suffered from, but also what offerings may be within the bundle.

The other constructions which were excavated are also linked to worship: the first one, an Inca monument intended to host pilgrims and rituals, was constructed in several stages, each identified with a series of offerings including seashells and valuable objects. The last structure researched was most likely among the ‘chapels’ for foreign pilgrims, referred to by Spanish monk Antonio de la Calancha in his 17th-century description of the site. Additionally, the excavations also discovered several ‘foundation’ offerings, such as vases, dogs, and other animals, as well as a platform with a hole in the middle, in which an idol was probably placed. The complex seems to have been designed around this idol, involved in religious activities with pilgrims.

According to investigators, these discoveries suggest that Incas made significant adjustments to the Pachacamac site, in order to make a huge pilgrimage center on Peru’s Pacific coast. ‘Deities and their worship played a major part in the life of Pre-Colombian societies,’ concludes Peter Eeckhout. ‘The Inca understood this very well, and integrated it into how they wielded their power. By promoting empire-wide worship, they contributed to creating a common sense of identity among the many different peoples that made up the empire. Pachacamac is one of the most striking examples of this.’

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