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First Unlooted Royal Tomb of Its Kind Unearthed in Peru

By Heather Pringle for National Geographic
6/27/2013 9:20:20 AM

The following is an excerpt from National Geographic.

It was a stunning discovery: the first unlooted imperial tomb of the Wari, the ancient civilization that built South America's earliest empire between 700 and 1000 A.D. Yet it wasn't happiness that Milosz Giersz felt when he first glimpsed gold in the dim recesses of the burial chamber in northern Peru.

Giersz, an archaeologist at the University of Warsaw in Poland, realized at once that if word leaked out that his Polish-Peruvian team had discovered a 1,200-year-old "temple of the dead" filled with precious gold and silver artifacts, looters would descend on the site in droves. "I had a nightmare about the possibility," says Giersz.

So Giersz and project co-director Roberto Pimentel Nita kept their discovery secret. Digging quietly for months in one of the burial chambers, the archaeologists collected more than a thousand artifacts, including sophisticated gold and silver jewelry, bronze axes, and gold tools, along with the bodies of three Wari queens and 60 other individuals, some of whom were probably human sacrifices. (Related: "First Pictures: Peru's Rare, Unlooted Royal Tomb")

Peru's Minister of Culture and other dignitaries will officially announce the discovery today at a press conference at the site. Krzysztof Makowski Hanula, an archaeologist at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru in Lima and the project's scientific adviser, said the newly unearthed temple of the dead "is like a pantheon, like a mausoleum of all the Wari nobility in the region."

Read more on the "Overlooked Empire".

Photograph by Daniel Giannoni. Images of winged beings adorn a pair of gold-and-silver ear ornaments a high-ranking Wari woman wore to her grave. Archaeologists found the remains of 63 individuals, including three Wari queens, in the imperial tomb at El Castillo de Huarmey.

Photograph by Milosz Giersz. Protected from looters by 30 tons of stone, those interred in the mausoleum lay exactly where Wari attendants left them some 1,200 years ago. Archaeologist Krzysztof Makowski Hanula, the project's scientific adviser, describes the mausoleum as a pantheon where all the Wari nobles of the region were buried.

Photograph by Daniel Giannoni. With eyes wide open, a painted Wari lord stares out from the side of a 1,200-year-old ceramic flask found in a newly discovered tomb at El Castillo de Huarmey in Peru. The Wari forged South America's earliest empire between A.D. 700 and 1000.

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