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First Pictures: Peru’s Rare, Unlooted Royal Tomb (Part I)

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.
South America’s Earliest Empire
Photograph by Daniel Giannoni
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.
—Heather Pringle
Human Remains
Photograph by Milosz Giersz
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."
Wari Queen
Photograph by Milosz Giersz
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 1200 years ago. Archaeologist Krzysztof Makowski Hanula, the project's scientific advisor, describes the mausoleum as a pantheon, where all the Wari nobles of the region were buried.
Human Sacrifices?
Photograph by Patrycja Przadka Giersz
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.
Ceramic Flask
Photograph by Patrycja Przadka Giersz
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).
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