New Moche tomb discovered

July 7th, 2008
Remains of Moche king dating from 1,700 years ago found in Úcupe, Northern Peru
New moche tomb
Úcupe dig site (above)
Moche art, Señor de Sipán (below)

Invoking memories of Walter Alva’s spectacular and world renowned discovery of the Señor de Sipán tomb in 1987, another discovery has been made not far away.

After one month of excavations led by Canadian Steve Bourget of the University of Texas, a tomb containing the 1700 year old remains of a person buried with hundreds of precious ornaments was discovered.

Living in a similar period of time as his more famous neighboring Moche king at Sipán, this man, also a king, seems to have been of similar power, wealth and importance.

The archaeological dig took place in Úcupe, some 39 kilometres from Chiclayo in Lambayeque. A expert in the Moche culture and known for his work on the Huaca de la Luna near Trujillo, Bourget was accompanied by Bruno Alva Meneses, son of Walter Alva. For him, experiencing what were perhaps the same emotions as his father, reliving his father’s experience from all those years ago, was more than he could have hoped for.

Making such important discoveries in the desert ruins of Northern Peru is no easy task. Tomb raiders have been working full time here since the Spanish arrival almost 500 years ago. All of the Huacas, the ceremonial pyramidal structures, in the region have felt the affects of these careless thieves and the results are obvious.

The Huaca Pepe Quiñones where the find was made, named after a man who lived next to the 25m tall pyramid all his life, is no different. It is a shadow of its former self. But as with the Huaca Rajada, site of the Señor de Sipán discovery, tomb raiders had not reached their prize.

The tomb is very similar. A wooden sarcophagus, bolted closed with copper nails, contained the skeleton of a man accompanied by his treasure. This included 14 gold crowns and masks, jewellery made with precious beads, silver and gold, and elegantly woven clothes fit for a king. The value of these items was so high that a worried Bourget immediately called the authorities. 24hr protection was provided and the most precious items were immediately taken to the Museo Tumbes Reales, a huge museum pupose built to house the countless Señor de Sipán artifacts, to be kept under lock and key.

Digging continued until they reached more burial offerings. Hundreds of ceramic pots, more metallic objects and the bones of sacrificed llamas were found. Continuing the digging today, Bourget and his team believe they have found more tombs surrounding this one, much in the style of the Señor de Sipán in which the bodies of guardians, his wife etc were found with him.

Bourget is now requesting even greater protections for the site and the urgent construction of a Site Museum to display some the discoveries and keep them secure. Locals are very excited by the find, not only for the historical importance, but for the possibility of jobs that could be brought to the area via an increase in tourism.

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