Category Archives: PERU

Archaeological Site in Peru Is Called Oldest City in the Americas

Archaeological Site in Peru Is Called Oldest City in the Americas

A complex of American pyramids that may be older than the pyramids of Egypt stands on a high, dry terrace overlooking a lush river valley in the Andes Mountains of Peru. These structures are remnants of the ancient city of Caral, which some have called the oldest society in the Americas.

According to groundbreaking research published in Science back in 2001, Caral was founded around 5,000 years ago. That origin date places it before the Egyptian pyramids in Africa and roughly 4,000 years before the Incan Empire rose to power on the South American continent. That history, and the sheer scope of the site, prompted UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural.

Caral sits in the Supe Valley, a region of Peru’s high desert nestled between the rainforest, mountains and the Pacific coast. The valley is brimming with ancient monumental architecture. And in the decades since Caral first made headlines, archaeologists working in the region have turned up about 18 nearby cities, some of which may be even older.

Taken together, these ancient people represent a complex culture now called Norte Chico. These people lived at a time when cities were on Earth, and perhaps non-existent elsewhere in the so-called New World. Even more incredible is that the civilization pre-dated the invention of ceramic pottery by some six centuries, yet they could master the technological prowess required to build monumental pyramids. 

Much remains a mystery about this culture, but if archaeologists can unlock the secrets of Caral and its ancient neighbours, they may be able to understand the origins of Andean civilizations — and the emergence of the first American cities. 

The Pyramids of Caral

A German archaeologist named Max Uhle first stumbled across Caral in 1905 during a wide-ranging study of ancient Peruvian cities and cemeteries. The site piqued his interest, but Uhle didn’t realize the large hills in front of him were actually pyramids. Archaeologists only made that discovery in the 1970s. And even then, it took another two decades before Peruvian archaeologist Ruth Shady kicked off systematic excavations of the region.

In 1993, working on weekends with the help of her students, Shady began a two-year survey of the Supe Valley that would ultimately yield a staggering 18 distinct settlements. No one knew how old they were, but the cities’ similarities and more primitive technologies implied a single, ancient culture that predated all others in the region.

By 1996, Shady’s work attracted a small fund from the National Geographic Society, which was enough to launch her Caral Archaeological Project working at the heart of the main city itself.

And when her team’s initial results were published in 2001, their study set the narrative for Caral as we still appreciate it today. The global press heralded it as the first city in the Americas. “Caral … was a thriving metropolis as Egypt’s great pyramids were being built,” Smithsonian Magazine reported. The BBC said the find offered hope to a century-long archaeological search for a “mother city” — a culture’s true first transition from tribal family units into urban life. Such a discovery could help explain why humanity made the leap.

Ruth’s work would make her an icon in Peruvian archaeology. As a 2006 feature in Discover put it, “She has dug [Caral’s] buildings out of the dust and pried cash from the grip of reluctant benefactors. She has endured poverty, political intrigue, and even gunfire (her bum knee is a souvenir of an apparent attempted carjacking near the dig site) in the pursuit of her mission.”

She continues to study the ancient society today, eking out new clues buried in the desert. Over decades, her long-running project has revealed that the “Sacred City of Caral-Supe” covers roughly 1,500 acres of surprisingly complex and well-preserved architecture. At its height, Caral was home to thousands of people and featured six pyramids, sunken circular courts, monumental stone architecture and large platform mounts made of earth. To researchers, these buildings are a testament to a forgotten ceremonial and religious system.

She now holds honorary doctorate degrees from five universities and a Medal of Honor from Peru’s congress. In November of 2020, the BBC named her to their 100 Women of 2020 list. 

But controversy has also emerged in the two decades since the seminal study. Shady had a falling out with her co-authors in the years after their publication that turned nasty. Soon, other researchers had also started producing radiocarbon dates from the ancient cities that surround Caral. Surprisingly, some of those dates suggest they could be even older. Those dates could simply be evidence that these cities all existed simultaneously as part of a larger culture in this valley in the Andes. Or, it could be a sign that the true oldest city has yet to be found. 

Influence on the Inca

Whichever city in the area is oldest, Norte Chico presents a puzzle for human history. Until recent years, conventional wisdom held that people first reached North America in earnest 13,000 years ago via a land bridge that appeared as the Ice Age thawed. A steady stream of sites older than that has since been found. In Peru, human remains have shown that hunter-gatherers lived in the region as far back as at least 12,000 years ago. And there are traces of settlements along the Pacific Coast from 7,000 years ago. The residents of Caral were likely the ancestors of these people who decided to settle down and build cities in the Supe Valley.

But why would the mother city of the Americas emerge so early in South America? Well-known sites in North America, like the cities of the Olmec, as well as Chaco Canyon and Moundville, weren’t built until thousands of years later.

To archaeologists, unlocking the story of Caral — and what became of the people who lived there — could carry implications for the story of the Americas as a whole. The Caral civilization survived for nearly a millennium, until, some researchers suspect, climate change wiped it out. But the people and their ideas didn’t disappear. Scientists see Caral’s influence in cultures that lived long after they were gone. All along the Peruvian coast, there are signs of mounds, circular structures and urban plans similar to those at Caral.

Archaeologists also found a khipu (or quipu) recording device at the site. For thousands of years after Caral’s demise, and throughout the Inca Empire, cultures in the Andes would use this system of knots as a kind of recorded language unlike any other known in the world.

The genetic heritage of the Caral people may also survive even today. A sweeping genetic study of modern Peru, published in Nature in 2013, showed that despite the Spanish influence, people in many regions of the nation can trace their genetic heritage all the way back to the first settlers of South America. It’s a line that runs right through Caral.

30,000-Year-Old Sacsayhuamán Secret Writing Method Discovered

30,000-Year-Old Sacsayhuamán Secret Writing Method Discovered

A researcher has suggested a highly thought-provoking theory that the fabulous Sacsayhuamán temple in Peru might involve secret 30 000-year-old writing. A discovery of this magnitude could easily re-write not only our understanding of the Stone Age but also world history.

In our article “Sacsayhuamán – Was It Built By ‘Demons’ Or Viracocha The Bearded God?” we examined the walls built by stones that our gigantic modern machinery could hardly move and put in place. Sacsayhuamán, located on the outskirts of the ancient Inca capital city of Cuzco is one of the most impressive and mysterious fortresses of the Andes.

Sacsayhuamán is still shrouded in mystery. The question of how the Sacsayhuamán stones have been transported remains unanswered. Will the corners of the stones maybe throw more light on the enigma of Sacsayhuamán? Dr. Derek Cunningham, a researcher has put forward a controversial and highly intriguing theory.

30,000-Year-Old Sacsayhuamán Secret Writing Method Discovered
The Sacsayhuamán complex

Based on his studies of the Sacsayhuamán complex, he concluded that the curious angles formed by these stones reveal ancient Inca knowledge of astronomical alignments of the moon, sun, and the earth, as well as knowledge of lunar and solar eclipses.

This should perhaps not be so surprising because many ancient temples were astronomically aligned. However, what Dr. Cunningham is suggesting is unorthodox because his hypothesis revolves around the thought that our ancient ancestors developed ‘writing’ at least 30,000 years ago from a geometrical form of text that is based on the motion of the moon and the sun.

He asserts that such ancient astronomical text, identical to that seen at Sacsayhuamán, is also found in both Lascaux and Chauvet caves in Europe, the African carved Ishango tally bone, and a circa 30,000-year-old carved stone found at the Shuidonggou Paleolithic Site in China.

Dr. Cunningham became interested in Sacsayhuamán when he first noted a series of unusual ground patterns located close to some Scottish sites.

This discovery drove him on to look at other ancient sites hoping to find some similarities and he did. He discovered that the Sacsayhuamán stone angles reveal something extraordinary.

“Each astronomical value (there are 9 standard values in total) was chosen by ancient astronomers to aid the prediction of eclipses. These astronomical terms are a mixture of values astronomers use to measure time (the 27.32-day sidereal month) and values to determine when the moon, earth, and sun align at nodes.

This includes the use of the 18.6-year nodal cycle of the moon, the 6.511 draconic months period between eclipse seasons, and also the 5.1-degree angle of inclination of the moon’s orbit.

The remaining values typically are either half-values of various lunar terms or values connected to the 11-day difference between the lunar and solar years,” Dr. Cunningham says.

Dr. Cunningham believes that scientists should focus their attention on the hidden writing discovered at Sacsayhuamán. “Now, substantial evidence has also been discovered that this archaic writing was used, perhaps almost continuously, until 500 years ago,” states Cunningham.

“Recently the analysis of the Muisca Tunjo figurines from Columbia uncovered evidence that they were constructed to the exact same astronomical design as Bronze Age figurines uncovered in Cyprus.

This discovery of such possible “recent” use of a Stone Age text thus prompted me to take a new look at circa 15th to 16th century Inca architecture, which is famous for its fabulous over-complex interlocking walls.

The question I asked was could the massive polygonal walls of Sacsayhuamán align to the exact same astronomical values used in the Columbian Muiscan figurines and the Atacama Giant of Chile? The surprising result is yes.”

“What is powerful about this new theory is that it is very simple and easy to test,” adds Cunningham.

“Further work is of course required. Satellite images cannot clearly take the place of direct fieldwork, and photographs placed online may have become distorted, but so far the data obtained appear highly consistent.” Dr. Cunningham is not afraid of criticism. “I honestly do not care whether I am right or wrong about this,” he concludes.

“All I have found so far is that the data is what it is. The potential of the idea to explain some things about so many sites from the pyramids of Egypt to the Atacama Giant in Chile is obviously very controversial, and it should be. But if correct, it could rewrite some aspects of our understanding of not only the Stone Age but also world history. If, on the other hand, scholars prove this specific astronomical theory wrong, then we can move on, knowing that it has been sufficiently tested.

9,000-Year-Old Remains Of Female Hunter Found In Peru

9,000-Year-Old Remains Of Female Hunter Found In Peru

Nine-thousand-year-old human remains discovered at the Andean highland site of Wilamaya Patjxa in Peru appear to have belonged to a woman hunter buried with a toolkit of projectile points and animal processing implements, according to a report in Science Magazine. 

9,000-Year-Old Remains Of Female Hunter Found In Peru
An artist’s depiction of a female hunter 9000 years ago in the Andean highlands of Peru

They were fascinated by a tool kit with 20 stone projectile points and blades lined neatly by the person’s side at a burial pit high in the Andes. Both signs led to a high-status hunter’s discovery.  “Everybody was talking about how this was a great chief, a big man,” says archaeologist Randy Haas of the University of California (UC), Davis.

Then, the University of Arizona bioarchaeologist Jim Watson observed that the bones were slender and light.  “I think your hunter might be female,” he told Haas.

Now, the researchers report that the burial was indeed that of a female, challenging the long-standing “man the hunter” hypothesis. Her existence led them to reexamine reports of other ancient burials in the Americas, and they found 10 additional women buried with projectile points who may also have been hunters. “The message [of the new finding] is that women have always been able to hunt and have in fact hunted,” says archaeologist Bonnie Pitblado of the University of Oklahoma, Norman, who was not part of the study.

The “man the hunter hypothesis,” which prevailed after an influential symposium in Chicago in 1966, held that during the course of human evolution, men hunted and women gathered—and they seldom switched those gender roles.

Some researchers challenged the notion, and ancient female warriors have been found recently, but archaeological evidence of women hunting has been scant. And the idea that all hunters were male has been bolstered by studies of the few present-day groups of hunter-gatherers, such as the Hadza of Tanzania and San of southern Africa. In those cultures, men hunt large animals and women gather tubers, fruits, nuts, and seeds.

Haas and his team, including local Aymara colleagues, weren’t intending to study female hunters. They discovered the fossilized remains of six individuals in burial pits at the archaeological site of Wilamaya Patjxa at 3925 meters’ altitude on the windswept altiplano of southern Peru. Two people were buried with stone tools.

The teenage girl was buried with what archaeologists believe was a hunting tool kit.

One person, likely 17 to 19 years old, was accompanied by four projectile points that would have been attached to short spears for hunting, several cutting blades, a possible knife, and scraper tools likely used for processing animal hides and meat.

The 20 stone tools and ochre, which can be used to tan hides, were neatly stacked next to the top of one individual’s thigh bone as if they had been held in a leather pouch that had disintegrated. Another person, likely 25 to 35 years old at death, was buried with two projectile points. The pits also held bone fragments of Andean deer and camelids, such as vicuña or guanaco.

The researchers figured out the sex of the bones using a new forensics method developed by co-author Glendon Parker of UC Davis. The technique analyzes whether an individual’s tooth enamel carries a male or female version of a protein called amelogenin.

The individual with the impressive toolkit was female; the other person with hunting tools was male. Studies of isotopes of carbon and nitrogen in the woman’s teeth showed she ate a typical hunter’s diet of animal meat and plants.

Others find the evidence of a female hunter convincing. “It’s a smoking gun,” says archaeologist Meg Conkey of UC Berkeley, who was not part of the study. “But skeptics might say it’s a one-off.”

Haas anticipated that concern: In a search of reports of burials at 107 other sites in the Americas older than 8,000 years, he found 10 other women and 16 men also buried with hunting tools. This meta-analysis suggests “early big-game hunting was likely gender-neutral,” he and his colleagues report today in Science Advances.

Robert Kelly of the University of Wyoming applauds the discovery of the female hunter but isn’t convinced by many of the other potential cases. He points out that having tools in the same grave as a person doesn’t always mean they used them in life. Two burials were female infants found with hunting implements, for example. Buried tools could also have been offerings from male hunters to express their sorrow, he says.

Pitblado says that even if not all of those female remains belonged to hunters, the meta-analysis suggests women have long been capable of hunting, and provides hints about where to look more closely for evidence.

It was one of many burials found that featured women hunters in the last 50 years.

Human ecologist Eugenia Gayo of the University of Chile agrees. Such research could help answer questions such as “What was the type of environments where everybody got involved in the hunting?” she says.

It shouldn’t be surprising that women could hunt, Pitblado adds. “These women were living high up in the Andes, at 13,000 feet full time,” she says. “If you can do that, surely you can bring down a deer.”

Two Inca Measurement Systems Calculated By Polish Architect

Two Inca Measurement Systems Calculated By Polish Architect

The Inca used two main units of measurement while constructing Machu Picchu, according to a Science in Poland report. Anna Kubicka of the Wrocław University of Science and Technology analyzed measurements of buildings at the site collected during field research conducted by the staff at Machu Picchu National Archaeological Park, the 3-D Scanning and Modeling Laboratory at the Wrocław University of Science and Technology, and the University of Warsaw between 2010 and 2017.

Dr Kubicka said that until now research on the Inca measurement system was based mainly on 16th and 17th-century chronicles written by colonising  Spaniards, and on their dictionaries of the Quechua language used by the Inca.

These sources contain information on anthropometric measures (measures based on human body parts). But the values assigned to them were not known.

Machu Picchu. Image: Public Domain

Scientists speculated that since the average Inca person was about 1.6 meters tall, Inca ell (arms) could be between 40 and 45 cm.

Field measurements were carried out by employees of the Machu Picchu National Archaeological Park together with the 3D Scanning and Modeling Laboratory team led by Professor Jacek Kościuk from the Wrocław University of Science and Technology.

Anna Kubicka, a PhD student at the time, joined his team. Kościuk’s team started working there in cooperation with Professor Mariusz Ziółkowski from the Center for Pre-Columbian Studies of the University of Warsaw.

The researcher determined that the Incas used two modules (or quanta) to measure their buildings. The basic module was 42 cm long and corresponded to the elbow length.

The second one, measuring 54 cm, is a so far unknown measure and does not result directly from the length of any part of the human body.

Kubicka calls it the ‘royal ell’ because the unit was used to measure structures of a higher rank. The ‘royal ell’ was associated with representative and residential building complexes of the Inca elite, while the other, basic one – with complexes of farm buildings, workshops and buildings for the yanaconas (the servants of the Inca elite).

Asked whether her finding has brought anything new to the knowledge of Machu Picchu, Kubicka says the complex was built at one point, in the first half of the 15th century. Therefore, the metrological data she has obtained is not needed to determine, for example, its age.

Kubicka said: “On the other hand, the question to observe was whether there were modular differences due to different building traditions of the people who came as labour from different regions of the Inca Empire.

At Machu Picchu we have different stonework styles, also used depending on the function of the building or complex of buildings.”

But it turned out that despite the differences in the construction method, only two measurement systems were used. Kubicka believes that this is evidence that the measuring of the Machu Picchu city plan was supervised by imperial engineers who used their own system of measures.

Further research will determine whether the measurement system identified by Dr Kubicka was also used in other places in Inca Peru as so far no one has looked into it. 

But according to Kubicka, it cannot be ruled out that the units of measurement changed overtime before the advent of the Incas. Perhaps, along with the stone processing technologies borrowed from the Tiwanaku culture, one common system of measures was adopted.

For her analyses, Dr Kubicka used the cosine quantogram method developed by the British researcher Kendall in 1974 to analyse length measures in megalithic structures. Simply put, it consists of searching for an indivisible unit of measurement (quantum) in a series of measurement data, the multiple of which is the length of individual elements of architecture.

The research in Machu Picchu was financed with a grant from the National Science Centre.

Sacrificial llamas found buried in Peru shed light on Incan rituals

Sacrificial llamas found buried in Peru shed light on Incan rituals

Archaeologists have long known about the common practice in ancient Incan culture to use human sacrifices as offerings to the gods. But it wasn’t until recently that they’d ever found a mummified llama sacrifice — let alone four of them.

According to the Guardian, a team of researchers led by archaeologist Lidio Valdez from the University of Calgary unearthed the mummified remains of four llamas during the excavation of Tambo Viejo, once an important administrative hub for the Incas.

The fur on the llama remains had matted together but still appeared relatively fluffy, highlighting how well-preserved the naturally mummified animals were. Their bodies were decorated in colorful strings and bracelets and are estimated to have been interred between 1432 and 1459.

The study noted that researchers could not identify any cuts or wounds on the llama bodies, suggesting that the animals may have been buried alive.

“Historical records indicate animal sacrifices were important to the Inca, who used them as special offerings to supernatural deities,” said Valdez, who uncovered the llama sacrifices with a team of archaeologists from San Cristóbal of Huamanga University. “This was especially the case of llamas, regarded second only to humans in sacrificial value.”

Sacrificial llamas found buried in Peru shed light on Incan rituals
The Incas dressed the llamas in ritual adornments, including necklaces and long, colourful strings of red, green, yellow, and purple, which hang from their ears as tassels
The llamas were likely sacrificed 500 years ago during a celebratory feast.

In addition to the four sacrificial llamas that were found, another decayed llama corpse was discovered separately, indicating there may have been an attempt to loot the burial, which was decorated with feathers from tropical birds. Archaeologists also found the carcasses of decorated guinea pigs at the site.

Further excavations of Tambo Viejo found traces of what seemed to be a massive feast. Researchers uncovered large ovens and other findings which pointed to some sort of celebration.

The new study — published in the journal Antiquity in late October 2020 — suggests that the estimated date of the llama sacrifice about five centuries ago happened during the period after the territory was peacefully annexed by the Incas.

The llamas were decorated with bracelets and colorful string, as shown here.

The finding supports the idea that the celebratory feast that took place was likely meant to appease the new resident subjects.

Besides being made as offerings to the gods to bring good health and a bountiful harvest, it seems that animal sacrifices were also used to stake a territorial claim for political purposes.

“The offerings likely were part of much larger feasts and gatherings, sponsored by the state,” said Valdez.

“The state befriended the local people with food and drink, cementing political alliances, whilst placing offerings allowed the Inca to claim the land as theirs.”

Excavation at Tambo Viejo first began in 2018. Since then, in addition to the llama burial discovery, researchers have found the remains of a large plaza and a distinct religious Inca structure called ushnu. They also unearthed a connecting road to the Nazca Valley, where the famous Nazca Lines geoglyphs are located.

Past studies have determined that llamas were significant to Inca culture. While the four-legged animals were hunted for their meat as food, they were also most frequently used as sacrificial offerings, more so than human sacrifices.

The Inca rituals were performed at specific times of the year. A hundred llamas were sacrificed in October to promote a healthy rainy season, and in February another 100 llamas were sacrificed to bring the rainstorms to a stop.

Bernabé Cobo, a colonial-period Spanish chronicler, wrote that the animals were used for different sacrifices based on their colouring. Brown-furred llamas were sacrificed to the creator god, Viracocha, while white llamas were presented as offerings to the sun. Llamas with mixed-coloured coats were sacrificed to the thunder.

It’s clear that each offering made by the Incas had its own significance and purpose.

As the researchers wrote in their study, “Through these ceremonies, the Inca created new orders, new understandings and meanings that helped to legitimise and justify their actions to both the conquerors and the conquered.”

Large 2,000-year-old cat discovered in Peru’s Nazca lines

Large 2,000-year-old cat discovered in Peru’s Nazca lines

Southern Peru’s dunes, carved with the geoglyphs of a hummingbird, a monkey and an orca-a figure some would dearly love to believe is an astronaut – have now revealed the form of an enormous cat lounging across a desert hillside.

During the work to increase access to one of the hills that offers a natural vantage point from which many of the designs can be seen, the Feline Nazca line was found, which dates from 200 to 100BC.

A Unesco world heritage site since 1994, the Nazca Lines, which are made up of hundreds of geometric and zoomorphic images, were created by removing rocks and earth to reveal the contrasting materials below. They lie 250 miles (400km) south of Lima and cover about 450 sq km (175 sq miles) of Peru’s arid coastal plain.

This handout photo provided by Peru’s Ministry of Culture-Nasca-Palpa shows the figure of a feline on a hillside in Nazca, Peru, Friday,

“The figure was scarcely visible and was about to disappear because it’s situated on quite a steep slope that’s prone to the effects of natural erosion,” Peru’s culture ministry said in a statement this week.

“Over the past week, the geoglyph was cleaned and conserved, and shows a feline figure in profile, with its head facing the front.” It said the cat was 37 metres long, with well-defined lines that varied in width between 30cm and 40cm.

“It’s quite striking that we’re still finding new figures, but we also know that there are more to be found,” Johny Isla, Peru’s chief archaeologist for the lines, told the Spanish news agency Efe.

“Over the past few years, the use of drones has allowed us to take images of hillsides.”

Isla said between 80 and 100 new figures had emerged over recent years in the Nazca and Palpa valleys, all of which predated the Nazca culture (AD200-700). “These are smaller in size, drawn on to hillsides, and clearly belong to an earlier tradition.”

The archaeologist said the cat had been put out during the late Paracas era, which ran from 500BC to AD200.

“We know that from comparing iconographies,” said Isla. “Paracas textiles, for example, show birds, cats and people that are easily comparable to these geoglyphs.”

The geoglyphs mostly depict different animals

Giant 10-Million-Year-Old Fossil Tree in Peru Reveals Surprises About Ancient Past

Giant 10-Million-Year-Old Fossil Tree in Peru Reveals Surprises About Ancient Past

A lot has changed over those 10 million years to turn the area from a humid and diverse ecosystem into the more arid and sparse state that it’s in today – not least a shift in elevation from around 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) to 4,000 meters (13,124 feet).

It’s not entirely clear how ongoing climate change is going to affect the Central Andean Plateau and the neighbouring Amazon Basin in the coming years.

In Peru, the Central Andes (or Altiplano) researchers have found a giant tree, a fossil hidden in the plains, and the 10 million years of history that it reveals don’t quite match up with what we thought we know about the ancient climate.

Back when this tree died, a little more than halfway through the Neogene period, the South American climate was much more humid than had previously been thought, based on what this tree fossil reveals.

The researchers say it shows the importance of using plant fossils to work out how our planet’s climate has taken sharp turns in the past – and from that, how it might change again in the future.

“This tree and the hundreds of fossil wood, leaf, and pollen samples we collected on the expedition, reveal that when these plants were alive the ecosystem was more humid – even more humid than climate models of the past predicted,” says palaeobotanist Camila Martinez from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama.

“There is probably no comparable modern ecosystem because temperatures were higher when these fossils were deposited 10 million years ago.”

A lot has changed over those 10 million years to turn the area from a humid and diverse ecosystem into the more arid and sparse state that it’s in today – not least a shift in elevation from around 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) to 4,000 metres (13,124 feet).

Recovered plant fossils that are a mere 5 million years old suggest the majority of the shift had already taken place by then. They show evidence of grasses, ferns, herbs, and shrubs, suggesting a puna-like ecosystem similar to today’s – rather than one that could have supported the growth of huge trees.

In the scale of Earth’s history, that’s a quick shift in a short space of time, caused by movements in the Earth’s lithosphere under South America over many millions of years.

“The fossil record in the region tells us two things: both the altitude and the vegetation changed dramatically over a relatively short period of time, supporting a hypothesis that suggests the tectonic uplift of this region occurred in rapid pulses,” says STRI palaeobotanist Carlos Jaramillo.

It’s not entirely clear how ongoing climate change is going to affect the Central Andean Plateau and the neighbouring Amazon Basin in the coming years, because of complicated feedback loops that might be triggered. But the new findings suggest that in the ancient past, at least, climate and altitude change occurred alongside one another.

The idea that the tectonic uplift helped to cause less rain and drying out of the region is almost the opposite of the conclusions that several other studies have come to.

In some ways, though, a lack of agreement between studies can be as useful as perfect harmony – the gaps show where experts might be getting their calculations wrong, and there are a lot of calculations to make to peer back through 10 million years of history.

“By the end of this century, changes in temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations will again approximate the conditions 10 million years ago,” says Martinez.

“Understanding the discrepancies between climate models and data based on the fossil record help us to elucidate the driving forces controlling the current climate of the Altiplano, and, ultimately, the climate across the South American continent.”

The shockingly unspoiled Peruvian tomb of the Lord of Sipan, Mochican Warrior Priest

The shockingly unspoiled Peruvian tomb of the Lord of Sipan, Mochican Warrior Priest

In 1987, at an archaeological site in Huaca Rajada near Sipán, on the north coast of Peru, an immense complex of unplundered Moche cultural tombs was uncovered. The most famous tombs were held by the Lord de Sipán, a Mochican warrior priest who, as in the area before, was buried amid the sparkling jewels.

Before discovering the famous Moche leader, archaeologists were met by a Guardian – the remains of a man with a copper helmet and a shield. He was buried in a seated position and his feet amputated to prevent him from leaving his seat. At the time, the researchers had no idea of the opulent riches that lay beyond the Guardian.

Eventually, excavators came upon a tomb, a 5m x 5m chamber, still sealed, with a wooden sarcophagus in the centre – the first of its type to be reported in the Americas. Within the coffin, lay the remains of a man dressed in full royal regalia, surrounded by a plethora of dedicatory offerings that were to accompany him in his afterlife.

An analysis of his regalia and iconographic depictions found in his tomb, suggests that this man was a high ranking Moche warrior-priest and a pre-eminent ruler of the Lambayeque valley. This mighty noble, who was probably viewed by his people as having god-like powers, became known as the Lord of Sipán.

The Lord of Sipán was aged 35-45 years old at the time of his death, and is known to have ruled the Lambayeque Valley in the late 3 rd century AD.

The elite leader was found adorned in gold, silver, and copper jewellery and ornaments, including an enormous crescent headdress with a plume of feathers, a face mask, several pectorals composed of hundreds of shell beads, necklaces, nose rings, ear rings, a gold and silver sceptre, banners of gilded metal sewn onto cotton cloth, and two backflaps, which are trapezoidal sheets of beaten gold that warriors wore attached to the back of their costumes.

The necklaces were made with beads of gold and silver in the shape of maní (peanuts), an important food staple for the Moche. There were ten kernels on the right side made of gold, signifying masculinity and the sun god, and ten kernels on the left side made of silver, to represent femininity and the moon god.

Also buried with the Lord of Sipán were many ceremonial utensils such as tropical sea shells, silver and gold rattles, knives, golden death-masks, gold bells showing a deity severing human heads, three other headdresses, and hundreds of beads. A total of 451 gold, silver, copper, textile, and feather objects were buried with the Lord of Sipán to accompany him in the afterlife.

As excavations progressed, archaeologists soon discovered that the Lord of Sipán was not alone. Buried with the warrior priest were six other people: three young women dressed in ceremonial clothes placed at the head and foot of his coffin (possibly wives or concubines who had apparently died sometime earlier), two robust males with amputated feet on the long sides (possibly warriors who were sacrificed to accompany their lord), and a child of about nine or ten years of age, placed at the head of his coffin.

The remains of a third male was later found on the roof of the burial chamber sitting in a niche overlooking the chamber. There was also a dog, which may have been the Lord of Sipan’s favorite pet, and two llamas, which were probably offerings.

The following year, in 1988, a second tomb was found and excavated near that of the Lord of Sipán, which contained an individual whom archaeologists concluded was also a Moche priest, second only in status to the Lord himself, surrounded by a Guardian and two women.

He was buried with numerous ritualistic objects, including a cup or bowl for collecting the blood of sacrificial victims, a metal crown adorned with an owl with its wings extended, and other items associated with worship of the moon. Around his neck he wore a made from small golden pendants with human faces that strike a variety of expressions.

Discoveries continued to emerge. Buried beneath 16 layers of the finest ornaments and clothing, archaeologists found a third tomb, which was slightly older than the other two.

The golden treasures and ornaments accompanying the deceased revealed that this individual was of the same or similar rank as the Lord of Sipán, and DNA analysis has shown that the two were related.  As a result, the archaeologists named this third individual ‘The Old Lord of Sipán’.

The Old Lord was accompanied by a young woman and a Guardian and, while his tomb was more subdued than that belonging to the Lord of Sipán, it contained the finest metalwork found at the site, including many pieces made of thin, hammered plates of gold, and gilded copper and alloys.  The ability to do this type of gold alloying was not discovered in Europe until centuries later.

Among the most precious relics were a tiny gold figurine holding a shield and club, wearing a turquoise inlaid shirt, an owl headdress, and moveable nose ornament, and a finely crafted necklace made up of golden spiders.

By 2007, a total of fourteen elite tombs had been found at Huaca Rajada and it seems quite clear that many more are still waiting to be found.

The goods found within them are so extensive that a large museum has been constructed which is entirely dedicated to highlighting this incredible discovery that sheds light on the culture, religion, and technology of the Moche civilization. The Royal Tombs Museum of Sipán was constructed in nearby Lambayeque to hold most of the artifacts and interpret the tombs.