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The Inca tomb found at Mata Indio archaeological site.

Incan Tomb Containing Elite Person and Sacrificed Children Unearthed in Peru


Archaeologists have announced that they have made an important discovery that will add to our knowledge of Inca society and culture in a remote area of northern Peru. They have found a tomb of a member of the Inca elite in the northern deserts of the Latin American nation. This find is expected to help experts to understand the nature of provincial Inca society and elite burials before the coming of the Spanish.

The Tomb in Mato Indio

This week, Andina News Agency, Peru announced the discovery at the Mata Indio site in the dry and arid landscape of the Lambayeque region in the north-west of Peru. The tomb is large, with Huaca Rajada-Sipan Museum archaeologist Anaximandro Nuñez Mejia describing it’s size and characteristics as “unprecedented in Lambayeque,” and its walls are made of mud bricks. It is also quite deep and there are niches in the walls that are believed to have once held idols of deities. The structure of the vault is not similar to other Inca tombs that have been uncovered elsewhere and this is intriguing experts.

"Its construction started with the excavation of a grave, that was deep and large enough to house the remains of an important person and his companions —on their journey to the beyond— as well as a vast number of offerings to be placed in niches and around the individuals," added Nuñez according to the Andina report.

The remains of five adults and four 6-year-old children have so far been identified, and it seems the children were sacrificed.

Several Inca pots were discovered. (Dornicke / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Several Inca pots were discovered. (Dornicke / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Sadly, the tomb has been looted in previous centuries and indeed may have been broken into multiple times. However, according to the Channel NewsAsia “despite evidence of looting, archaeologists recovered items including vases.” These examples of material culture will allow the experts to better understand the site and its importance.

A Valuable Seashell

The most significant artifacts that have been recovered are “spondylus, a type of seashell always present in the graves of important figures from the Incan period,” reports the website. The spondylus or thorny oyster shell has been prized by many cultures and they were extremely valuable. They were especially valued in Pre-Columbian societies such as the Inca and they were used for ceremonial offerings and were a sign of high status. They may even have been used as a form of currency.

Spondylus shell. (Archaeodontosaurus / CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Incas ruled a vast area of the west of Latin America, they conquered territories from Colombia to Chile. However, the Lambayeque region is believed to have only been part of the Incan Empire for some fifty years. The region is also very far from the heartland of the great Andean Empire. According to, the site is “located 2,000 kilometers from Cusco—capital of the Inca empire.”

The Lambayeque region has been home to several major civilizations such as the enigmatic Moche civilization and also to the Chimu culture. These societies were able to exploit the few fertile areas in the region, which is mostly desert, and created remarkable cities and monuments. The Chimu ruled the area until they were conquered by an Inca Emperor around the 1470s. The Lambayeque region is believed to have been one of the most populous and richest areas controlled by the Inca and its prosperity greatly impressed the Spanish Conquistadors in the sixteenth century.

Manco Cápac, First Inca King. (BrooklynMuseumBot / Public Domain)

Manco Cápac, First Inca King. (BrooklynMuseumBot / Public Domain)

The Significance of the Discovery

The discovery of the tomb is helping Peruvian experts better understand the impact of the Inca on the provinces that they conquered. The presence of a member of the Inca elite so far from the capital demonstrates that they kept a close eye on the subject peoples. It is possible the buried man was part of the administration that ruled the Lambayeque region. However, the distinctive nature of the architecture of the tomb may indicate the influence of local Chimu and other cultures and would indicate a level of cultural exchange between the Inca and the local people.

The experts are continuing to investigate the tomb and it will help them to better understand the provinces that were part of the Inca Empire. It is also enabling them to better understand the variety of Inca burial sites and practices. It is hoped that the Mata Indio site will yield more artifacts and even tombs that can reveal even more about the Inca Empire.

The local peoples are working in unison with the archaeologists. (Luis Chero)

The local peoples are working in unison with the archaeologists. (Luis Chero)

Top image: The Inca tomb found at Mata Indio archaeological site.            Source: Andina News Agency (Fair Use)

By Ed Whelan

Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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