peruvian mummies atacama

A mummy buried with assorted grave goods, including a beautifully painted pot

A team of Polish, Peruvian and Colombian archaeologists have discovered 150 mummies belonging to an unknown culture in Peru.

The finds, dated to the 4th-7th century AD, suggest that  the northern region of the Atacama desert had been inhabited by a farming community predating the Tiwanaku civilisation by at least 500 years.

Peru Mummies Atacama Collage

The team, lead by Prof Józef Szykulski from the University of Wrocław, have been excavating in the Tambo River delta in the northern region of the Atacama Desert since 2008.

The graves were dug directly into the sand, many without stone structures. Some of the bodies were wrapped in cotton shrouds, others in mats, and others in nets, suggesting that the culture may also have been fishing community.

Along with the bodies, the archaeologists found numerous grave goods, including bows, quivers tipped with arrow obsidian heads and maces with stone or copper finials.

“This is very interesting because bows are a rarity in Peru” Szykulski told the Polish Press Office.

There were also richly decorated weaving tools, jewellery made from tumbaga (a gold and copper alloy) and copper, reed withes attached to the ears of the dead and beautiful intact pottery. Some also had reed withes that were attached to the ears of the dead, which protruded above the surface of the graves.

In one grave, the archaeologists found a llama skeleton, inidcating that the animal had been brought to the region much earlier than previously thought.

The team also discovered the tombs of the Tiwanaku civilisation in the area, containing ceramic vessels, tools and weapons dating to the 7th-10th century AD.

One of the bodies had an elongated skull – an effect produced by tightly bounding the head with wooden board during growth – and is a typical indicator of an individual of elite status among Tiwanaku burials.

The Tiwanaku civilisation existed between 5th – 10th centuries AD, covering much of what is Peru and Chile today, but was not previously known to have reached the Tambo River delta.

The team will be returning to Peru in October as part of an interdisciplinary research project analysing the settlement processes in the pre-Columbian era in the river valleys of  southern Peru.

More pictures available here.

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Maiya Pina-Dacier

Head of Community at DigVentures, Maiya digs with a trowel in one hand, and a Twitter feed in the other. She reports on all our discoveries live from the trenches, and keeps our Site Hut full of the latest archaeology news. Got a story? Just drop her a line...

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